Across Giresci's waistcoat he wore a chain of gold. Now he took from the left-hand waistcoat pocket a silver fob watch completely out of keeping with the antique chain, and from the right the medallion of which he had spoken, holding the jewellery up for Dragosani's inspection. Dragosani caught his breath and held it, ignored the watch and chain but took hold of the medallion and stared at it. On one face of the disc he saw a highly stylised heraldic cross which could only be that of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, but which had been scored through again and again with some sharp instrument and thoroughly defaced; and on the other side -
Somehow Dragosani had expected it. In harsh, almost crude bas-relief, a triple device: that of the devil, the bat, and the dragon. He knew the motif only too well, and the question it prompted came out in a rush of breath which surprised him more than Giresci:
'Have you tracked this down?'
'The device, its heraldic significance? I have tried. It has a significance, obviously, but I've so far failed to discover the origin of this specific coat or chapter. I can tell you something of the symbolism, in local history, of the dragon and the bat; but as for the devil motif, that is rather... obscure. Oh, I know what / make of it, all right, but that's a personal thing and purely conjectural, with little or nothing to sub-'
'No,' Dragosani impatiently cut him off. 'That wasn't my meaning. I know the motif well enough. But what of the man - or creature - who gave you the medallion?
Were you able to trace his history?' He stared at the other, eager for the answer without quite knowing what had prompted the question. Asking it had been an almost involuntary action, the words simply springing from his tongue - as if they'd been waiting there for some trigger.
Giresci nodded, took back the medallion, watch and chain. 'It's curious, I know,' he said, 'but after an experience like mine you'd think I'd steer clear of all such stuff, wouldn't you? You certainly wouldn't think it would start me off on all those long years of private search and research. But that's what it did; and where better to start, as you seem to have worked out for yourself, than with the name and family and history of the creature I had destroyed that night? First his name: it was Faethor Ferenczy.'
'Ferenczy?' Dragosani repeated, almost tasting the word. He leaned forward, his fingertips white where they pressed down on the table between them. The name meant something to him, he felt sure. But what? 'And his family?'
'What?' Giresci seemed surprised at something. 'You don't find the name peculiar? Oh, the surname is common enough, I'll grant you - it's chiefly Hungarian. But Faethor?'
'What of it?'
Giresci shrugged. 'I only ever came across it on one other occasion: a ninth-century White Khorvaty prince ling. His surname was pretty close, too: Ferrenzig.'
Ferenczy, Ferrenzig, thought Dragosani. One and the same. And then he checked himself. Why on earth should he jump to a conclusion like that? And yet at the same time he knew that he had not merely 'jumped to a conclusion' but that he had known the duality of the Wamphyri identity for a fact. Dual identity? But surely that too was a conclusion drawn in haste. He had meant that the names were the same, not the men, or man, who had borne the names. Or had he in fact meant more than that? If so it was an insane conclusion - that those two Faethors, one a ninth-century Khorvatian prince and the other a modern Romanian landowner, should be one and the same man - or should be insane, except that Dragosani knew from the old Thing in the ground that the concept of vampiric and undead longevity was far from insane.
'What else did you learn of him?1 he finally broke the silence. 'What about his family? Surviving members, I mean. And his history, other than this tenuous Khorvaty link?'
Giresci frowned and scratched his head. 'Talking to you' he growled, 'is an unrewarding, even frustrating game. I keep getting this feeling that you already know most of the answers. That perhaps you know even more than I do. It's as if you merely use me to confirm your own well-established beliefs...' He paused for a moment, and when Dragosani offered no reply, continued: 'Anyway, as far as I'm aware Faethor Ferenczy was the last of his line. None survive him.'
Then you're mistaken!' Dragosani snapped. He at once bit his lip and lowered his voice. 'I mean... you can't be sure of that.'
Giresci was taken aback. 'Again you know better than me, eh?' He had been drinking Dragosani's whisky steadily but seemed little affected. Again he poured shots before suggesting: 'Let me tell you just exactly what I found out about this Ferenczy, yes?
The war was over by the time I got started. As for making a living: I couldn't complain. I had my own place, right here, and was "compensated" for my lost leg. This plus a small disability pension rounded things off; I would get by. Nothing luxurious, but I wouldn't starve or go in need of a roof over my head. My wife - well, she had been another victim of the war. We had no family and I never remarried.
'As to how I became engrossed with the vampire legend: I suppose it was mainly that I had nothing else to do. Or nothing else that I wanted to do. But this drew me like some monstrous magnet...
'All right, I won't bore you; I explain all of this simply to put you in the picture. And as you know, my investigations started with Faethor Ferenczy. I went back to where it had happened, talked to people who might have known him. Most of that neighbourhood had been reduced to rubble but a few houses still stood. The actual Ferenczy house was just a shell, blackened inside and out, with nothing at all to show who or what had lived there.
'Anyway, I had his name from various sources: postal services, Lands and Property Registry, missing-believed-dead list, war casualty register, etc. But other than this handful of responsible authorities, no one seemed to know him personally. Then I found an old woman still living in the district, a Widow Luorni. Some fifteen years before the war she'd worked for Ferenczy, had been his cleaner lady. She went in twice weekly and kept his place in good order. She'd done that for ten years or more, until she'd grown disenchanted with the work. She wouldn't say why specifically, but it was obvious to me that the trouble was Ferenczy himself, something about him. Something that had gradually grown on her until she couldn't take any more of it. At any rate, she never once mentioned his name without crossing herself. Yes, but still she managed to tell me some interesting things about him... I'll try to cut it short for you:
'There were no mirrors in his house. I know I don't have to explain the significance of that...
'The Widow Luorni never saw her employer outside the place in daylight; she never saw him outdoors at all except on two occasions, both times at evening, in his own garden.
'She never once prepared a meal for him and never saw him eat anything. Not ever. He had a kitchen, yes, but to the old lady's knowledge never used it; or if he did, then he cleared up after himself.
'He had no wife, no family, no friends. He received very little mail, was often away from home for weeks on end. He did not have a job and did not appear to do any work in the privacy of his home, but he always had money. Plenty of it. When I checked, I was unable to discover anything by way of a bank account in his name. In short, Ferenczy was a very strange, very secretive, very reclusive man ...
'But that's not all, far from it. And the rest is even stranger. One morning when she went to clean, the old girl found the local police there. Three brothers, a well-known gang of burglars working out of Moreni - a brutish lot that the police had been after for years - had been apprehended at the house. Apparently they'd broken into the place in the wee small hours of the morning. They had thought the house was empty: a bad mistake indeed!
'According to statements they later made to the police, Ferenczy had been dragging one of them and herding the other two to the cellar when his attention was arrested by the arrival of horsemen outside the house. Remember, in those days the local police still used horses in the more isolated regions. It was them, all right; they had been alerted by reports of prowlers in the area, the brothers, of course. And never were three criminals more glad to be given over into the hands of the law!
Thugs they were, by all means, but they'd been no match for Faethor Ferenczy. Each of them had a broken right arm and a broken left leg, and their intended victim was responsible! Think of his strength Dragosani! The police were too grateful to him to go into the matter too deeply, Widow Luorni said - and after all, he had only been protecting his life and property - but she was there when the brothers were carted away a few hours later, and it was plain to her that her employer had scared the daylights out of them.
'Anyway, I've said that Ferenczy was in the act of taking his captives to the cellar. For what purpose? A place to detain them until help arrived? Possibly
'Or a place to keep them, like a cool pantry, until they were... required, eh?' said Dragosani.
Giresci nodded. 'Exactly! Anyway, shortly after that the Widow stopped working there.'
'Hmm!' Dragosani mused. 'It surprises me he let her go. I mean, she must have suspected something. You said yourself that she was "disenchanted", that a feeling of unease had grown in her until she could take no more. Wouldn't he worry that she'd talk about him?'
'Ah!' Giresci answered. 'But you've forgotten something, Dragosani. What about the way he controlled me -with his eyes and his mind - on the night of the bombing, the night he died?'
'Hypnotism,' said the other at once.
Giresci smiled grimly, nodded. 'It is an art of the vampire, one of many. He simply commanded her that so long as he lived she would remain silent. While he lived, she would simply forget all about him, forget that she had ever seen anything sinister in him.'
'I see,' said Dragosani.
'And so strong was his power,' the other continued, 'that she actually did forget - until I questioned her about him all those years later. For, of course, by then Ferenczy was dead.'
Giresci's manner was beginning to irritate Dragosani. The man's air of self-satisfaction - his smugness - his obviously high opinion of his own detective skills. 'But of course this is all conjecture,' the necromancer finally said. 'You don't know any of it for a certainty.'
'Oh, but I do,' answered the other at once. 'I know it from the Widow herself. Now don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that she simply volunteered all of this. It wasn't that we had a good gossip session or anything like that. Far from it. No, for I had to really sit down with her and ask her about him, repeatedly, until I'd dug it all out. He was dead and his power gone, certainly, but still something of it lingered over, do you see?'
Dragosani grew thoughtful. His eyes narrowed a little. Suddenly, surprisingly, he felt threatened by this man. He was too clever by far, this Ladislau Giresci. Dragosani resented him - and at once wondered why. He found it hard to understand his own feelings, the sudden surge of emotion within. It was too enclosed in here, claustrophobic. That must be it. He shook his head, sat up straighter, tried to concentrate. 'Of course, the Widow is long dead now.'
'Oh, yes-years ago.'
'So you and I, we're the only ones who know anything at all about Faethor Ferenczy?'
Giresci peered at the younger man. Dragosani's voice had sunk so low that it was little more than a growl, almost sinister. There seemed something wrong with him. Even under Giresci's questioning gaze he gave himself another shake, rapidly blinking his eyes.
That's right,' Giresci answered, frowning. 'I've told no one else in - oh, longer than I can remember. No point telling anyone else, for who'd believe? But are you all right, my friend? Are you well? Is something bothering you?'
'Me?' Dragosani found himself leaning forward, as if drawn towards Giresci. He deliberately forced himself upright in his chair. 'No, of course not. I'm a little drowsy, that's all. My meal, I suppose. The good food you've served me. Also, I've driven a long way in the last few days. Yes, that's it: I'm tired.'
'Yes, quite sure. But go on, Giresci, don't stop now. Please tell me more. About Ferenczy and his forebears. About the Ferrenzigs. The Wamphyri in general. Tell me anything else you know or suspect. Tell me everything.'
'Everything? It could take a week, longer!'
'I have a week,' Dragosani answered.
'Damn, I believe you're serious!'
'Well now, Dragosani, doubtless you're a nice enough young fellow, and it's good to talk to someone who's genuinely interested and knows something about one's subject - but what makes you think I'd care to spend a whole week like that? At my age time's important. Or maybe you think I have the same kind of longevity Ferenczy had, eh?'
Dragosani smiled, but thinly. On the point of saying, you can talk to me here or in Moscow, he checked himself. That wasn't necessary. Not yet, anyway. And it might let Borowitz in on his big secret: how he came to be a necromancer in the first place. 'Then how about the next hour or two?' he compromised. 'And, since you've suggested it, we can start with Ferenczy's longevity.'
Giresci chuckled. 'Fair enough. Anyway, there's whisky left yet!' He poured himself another shot, made himself comfortable. And after a moment's thought:
'Ferenczy's longevity. The near-immortality of the vampire. Let me tell you something else the Widow Luorni
said. She said that when she was a small girl, her grandmother had remembered a Ferenczy living in the same house. And her grandmother before her! Nothing strange about that, though - son follows father, right? There were plenty of old Boyar families round here whose names went back to time immemorial. There still are. What's strange is this: to the Widow's knowledge there had never been any female Ferenczys. And how does a man pass on his name if he never takes a wife, eh?'
'And of course you looked into it,' said Dragosani.
'I did. Records were scarce, however, for the war had destroyed a great deal. But certainly the house had been the seat of the Ferenczys as far back as I could trace it, and never a woman among 'em! A celibate lot, eh?'
Without understanding his outrage, Dragosani suddenly felt that he himself had been insulted. Or perhaps it was only his natural intelligence which felt slighted. 'Celibate?' he said stiffly. 'I think not.'
Giresci nodded. In fact he was well aware of the Wamphyri's rapacious nature. 'No, of course not,' he confirmed Dragosani's denial. 'What? A vampire celibate? Ridiculous? Lust is the very force that drives him. Universal lust - for power, flesh, blood! But listen to this:
'In 1840 one Bela Ferenczy set off across the Meridi-onali to visit a cousin or other relative in the mountains of the northern Austro-Hungarian borders. Now this much is well documented; indeed, old Bela seems to have gone to a deal of trouble to let people know he was going visiting. He installed a man to look after the place while he was away - not a local man, incidentally, but someone of gypsy stock - hired a coach and driver for the early stages of the journey, made reservations for connections through the high passes, and completed all of the preparations necessary to travel in these parts in those days.
And he put it about locally that this was to be a journey of valediction. He had seemed to grow very old very quickly in the last year or two, and so it was accepted that he went to say his last farewells to distant relatives.
'Now remember, we were still very much Moldavia-Wallachia at that time. In Europe the Industrial Revolution was in full swing - everywhere but here! Insular as ever, we were so backward as to seem almost retarded! The Lemberg-Galatz railway, skirting the mountains, was still more than a decade away. News travelled extremely slowly, and records were hard to keep. I mention this to highlight the fact that in this case there was good communication, and that a record did survive.'
'Case?' Dragosani queried. 'What case are you talking about?'
'The case of Bela Ferenczy's sudden death when his coach and horses were hurled into a precipice by an avalanche in one of the high passes! News of the "accident" got swiftly back here; the old man's Szgany retainer took Ferenczy's sealed will to the local registrar; the will was posted without delay, showing that the Ferenczy house and grounds were to pass to a "cousin", one Giorg, who had, apparently, already been appraised of the situation and his inheritance.'
Dragosani nodded. 'And of course this Giorg Ferenczy later turned up and took possession. He would be - or he would appear to be - younger far than Bela, but the family resemblance would be unquestionable.'
'Good!' Giresci barked. 'You follow my reasoning precisely. Having lived here for fifty years, which would normally make him an old man, Bela had decided it was high time he "died" and made way for the next in line.'
'And after Giorg?'
'Faethor, of course,' Giresci scratched his chin reflectively. 'I've often wondered,' he said, 'if I had not killed
him on the night of the bombing - if he had survived that night - what his next incarnation would have been? Would he have shown up after the war in some new Ferenczy guise, to rebuild the house and carry on as before? I think the answer is probably yes. They are territorial, the Wamphyri.'
'And so you're convinced that Bela, Giorg, and Faethor were all one and the same?'
'Of course. I thought that was understood. Didn't he tell me as much himself, when he raved of the battles at Silistria and Constantinople? And before Bela there was Grigor, Karl, Peter and Stefan - oh, and the Lord knows how many others - all the way back to Faethor Ferrenzig the princeling and probably beyond! This was his territory, do you see? He held bloody dominion here. And in the olden times, as princelings or Boyars, my God but the Wamphyri were fierce about their holdings! That was why he joined the Fourth Crusade, to keep olden and future enemies off his lands. His lands, you understand? No matter what king or government or system is in power, the vampire considers his home ground to be his. He fought to protect himself, his monstrous heritage, and not for a mangy pack of scummy foreigners out of the West! You've seen the defaced Crusader cross on the reverse of my medallion - hah! When they dishonoured him he scorned them, spat on them!'
'And have you actually traced his name that far back? To Constantinople, I mean, in 1204?' Something of his awe of the vampire - or his envy? - was evident in Dragosani's voice.
Giresci cocked his head a little on one side; 'Dragosani, how's your history?'
'Hardly brilliant. Fair, I suppose.'
'Hmm! Well, many names came down from the Fourth Crusade, but you'll be hard put to find a Ferenczy or Ferrenzig amongst them. He was there, though, be sure of it! How do I know? Well, it's possible that you're talking to the world's foremost authority on that particular bloodbath, and I've discovered things which I'm sure many other historians have overlooked. Of course, I had the advantage of knowing what I was looking for - my objectives were specific - but in the process of tracking down the vampire I've naturally covered a deal of extraneous ground. Man, I could write a book on the Fourth Crusade - certainly from Hungary to Constantinople! And talking of Constantinople: Lord, what a hell that must have been! What a battle! And sure enough, right there in the thick of it - wherever the fighting raged fiercest - there was this man and the brutish horde he commanded. He was there too when the city fell, when he and his band of mercenary berserkers rampaged, utterly out of control. Yes, and his excesses spread like a cancer; the entire army joined in; they raped, pillaged and massacred for three long days...
Tope Innocent III had called the Crusade; now, aghast at what it had turned into, he was unable to regain control. The Crusaders had vowed to take the Holy Land, but Innocent and his legate were obliged to absolve them from that vow. He as good as washed his hands of the affair; but in secret communiqu��s he exercised what little control remained to him, ordering that those directly responsible for "gross acts of excessive and unnatural cruelty" must gain "neither glory nor rich reward" for their barbarism but that "their names shall not be mentioned, nor shall they be offered respect or high regard".
'Well, no need to look far for a scapegoat: a certain "bloodthirsty Wallach recruited in Zara" would fit the bill nicely. Nor was he blameless. At first the Crusaders had honoured and elevated him - perhaps, secretly, they'd even envied or feared him - but now he found himself stripped of all honours and disgraced, and his name was stricken from all records. In return he scorned them for their duplicity, and defacing the sigil of their campaign -the cross on his medallion - he took his band and went home, proud and fierce under the banner of the devil, the bat and the dragon.'
Dragosani chewed on his lip for a moment before saying: 'Let's assume that to all intents and purposes all of this is true, or at least based on the truth to the best of your knowledge. Still there are several important questions remaining to be answered.'
'Ferenczy was a vampire. A vampire takes victims. When the hunger is on him he'll kill as ruthlessly as a fox kills chickens, and just as thoughtlessly. Yet it seems his sheet was clean. How could he possibly live here through all those centuries without once arousing suspicion? Remember, Ladislau Giresci, the blood is the life! Were there no cases of vampirism?'
'Around Ploiesti? None - not one - not as long as they've kept records, so far as I can discover.' Giresci smiled grimly and leaned forward. 'But if you were a vampire, Dragosani, would you take victims right on your own doorstep?'
'No, I don't suppose I would,' Dragosani frowned. 'Where, then?'
'North, my friend, in the Meridionali itself! Where else but the Transylvanian Alps, where all vampire stories seem to have their roots? Slanic and Sinaia in the foothills, Brasov and Sacele beyond the pass. And none of them more than fifty miles distant from Ferenczy's house, and all shunned for their evil reputations.'
'What, even now?' Dragosani feigned surprise, but he remembered what Maura Kinkovsi had had to say on the subject three years ago.
'Stories linger down the years, Dragosani. Especially ghost stories. They take no chances, the mountain folk. If you die young up there and there's no simple explanation, it's the stake for you for sure! As to actual case histories: the last child to die of a vampire's bite did so in Slanic in the winter of forty-three. Yes, and she was buried with a stake through her heart, like a great many 'innocents before her. What? There had been eleven that year alone, in the villages around!'
'In forty-three, you say?'
Giresci nodded. 'Oh, yes, and I see you've already made the connection. That's right, it was just a few months before Ferenczy died. She was his last victim, or at least the last we know of. Of course, with the war going on he'd be far less restricted, his victims more readily disposed of. He may well have taken many we don't know about, people who simply "went missing" during air-raids in the countryside around - and there were plenty of those, believe me.' He paused. 'Any more questions?'
'You said that those towns you named were up in the mountains, fifty miles from Ploiesti. That's rough country; the ground rises rapidly, through two thousand feet in places; so how did Ferenczy do it? Did he become a bat and fly to his hunting grounds?'
'Folklore says he has that power. Bat, wolf, wraith -even flea, bug, spider! But ... I think not. There's no hard evidence anywhere to be found. But you ask, how did he get to his kill? I don't know. I have my own ideas ... but no proof at all.'
'What ideas?' Dragosani asked, and waited half-anxiously for Giresci to answer. He already knew the correct answer to the question - or believed he did - but now he would discover just how clever Giresci really was. And how dangerous... What? He once again propped himself upright in his chair. What the hell was going wrong with his thought processes?
'A vampire,' the other slowly answered, carefully for mulating his thoughts, 'is not human. I saw enough on the night Ferenczy died to convince me of that. So what is he? He is an alien creature, a co-habitant of man's body and mind. He is at best symbiotic, a gestalt-creature, and at worst a parasite, a hideous lamprey.'
Correct! Dragosani snapped his agreement - but silently, to himself. And at once he felt dizzy and confused. He had known for a fact that Giresci was right in his assessment of the vampire - but how had he known? And even as he wondered what was happening to him, now Dragosani heard himself say:
'But isn't he supernatural? Surely he would need to be, to go about his business and still escape detection down all the years.'
'Not supernatural, no,' Giresci shook his head. 'Super human! Hypnotic, magnetic! Creature of illusion, in no way a magician but in every way a great trickster! Not a bat but silent as a bat! Not a wolf, but swift as a wolf! Not a flea but a monster with a flea's appetite for blood - on a scale unprecedented! That's my idea of the vampire, Dragosani. Fifty miles to a creature like that? A healthy evening's walk! He would be able to compel his human shell to excesses of effort undreamed of...'
All correct, all of it, Dragosani mentally agreed, and out loud: The name, Ferenczy. You say it's common enough. Why, being so clever, and taking into account all your research and what have you, haven't you tracked down other Ferenczys? You say that the vampire is territorial, and this region belonged to Faethor. Surely then there must have been other territories - and who lords or lorded it over them, eh?'
His voice was a rasp, harsh as a file. Once more Giresci
was a little taken aback. 'Why, you've pre-empted me!' he finally answered. 'Shrewd stuff, Dragosani. Very astute. If Faethor Ferenczy had single-handedly held Moldavia and eastern Transylvania in his thrall for seven hundred years and more, what of the rest of Romania? Is that what you're saying?'
'Romania, Hungary, Greece - wherever vampires still dwell.'
'"Still" dwell, Dragosani? God forbid!'
'Have it your own way,' Dragosani snapped. 'Where they used to dwell, then.'
Giresci drew back from him a little way. 'A Castle Ferenczy in the Alps blew itself right off the mountain back in the late Twenties. That was put down to marsh-gas, methane, accumulated in the vaults and dungeons. An ill-regarded place, no one missed it. Anyway, so far as is known, its owner went with it. A baron or count or some such, his name was Janos Ferenczy. But documentation? History? Records? Forget it! That one's page in history has been erased even more surely than old Faethor's in the Fourth Crusade. Which in my book, of course, only serves to make him more suspect.'
'Rightly so,' Dragosani agreed at once. 'He was blown to hell, eh, old Janos? Good! And have you tracked down any other vampires, Ladislau Giresci? Come, tell me now: were there no Ferenczys who paid for their crimes and were put down in their heyday? How say you? What of the Western Carpatii, say beyond the Oltul?'
'Eh? But that should be familiar ground for you, Dragosani,' said the other. 'You were born there, after all. Knowing as much as you do, and being so "clever" in your own right - yes, and with this keen interest of yours in vampires - surely by now you'll have made your own investigations and searches?'
Dragosani nodded. 'Indeed, indeed! And five hundred years ago in the west there was such a creature; he butchered the vile Turk in his thousands and was slain for his so-called "unnatural" zest!'
'Good!' Giresci thumped the table, no longer seeming to notice the change which had come over his guest. 'Yes, you're right: his name was Thibor, a powerful Boyar, destroyed in the end by the Vlads. He had great power over his Szekely followers - too much power - so that the princes feared and were jealous of him. Also, it's likely they suspected he was one of the Wamphyri. It's only us modern, sophisticated men who doubt such things. The primitive and the barbarian, they know better.'
'What else do you know of this one?' Dragosani growled.
'Not much,(Giresci gulped more whisky, his eyes less sharp and his breath beginning to reek,) 'not yet. He's to be my next project. I know that he was executed -'
'Murdered!' Dragosani cut in.
'Murdered, then - somewhere west of the river, below lonesti, and that he was staked and buried in a secret place, but -'
'And was he decapitated, too, this Thibor?'
'Eh? I found no records to that effect. I -'
'He was not!' Dragosani hissed from between clenched teeth. 'They weighted him down with silver and iron chains, put a stake in his vitals and entombed him. But they let him keep his head. You of all people should know what that means, Ladislau Giresci. He was not dead. He was undead. He still is!'
Giresci struggled upright in his chair. Finally he had sensed that something was desperately wrong. His eyes had been a little glazed but now they came back into focus. Seeing the snarl on Dragosani's face, he began to tremble and pant. 'It's far too dim in here,' he gasped.
Tar too close...' And he reached out a fluttering hand
to swing back a shutter on the window. The sun at once streamed in.
Dragosani had risen to his feet, was leaning forward in a half-crouch. Now his hand reached across the table and trapped Giresci's wrist in a band of steel-like fingers. His grip was ferocious. 'Your next project, you old fool? And if you had found him - found the vampire's grave - what then, eh? Old Faethor showed you how to do it, didn't he? And would you do it again, Ladislau Giresci?'
'What? Are you mad?' Giresci drew back more yet, inadvertently dragging the younger man's hand and arm into the beam of sunlight. Dragosani at once released him, snatched himself upright and reeled away into the room's cool shadows. He had felt the sunlight on his arm like acid, and in that moment he had known!
'Thibor!' he spat the word out like a vile taste. 'You!'
'Man, you're ill!' Giresci was struggling to stand up.
'You old bastard - you old devil - you ancient Thing in the earth! You would have used me!' Dragosani raved, as if to himself. But in the back of his mind, at the edge of his awareness, something chuckled evilly and shrank back, shrank down.
'You need a doctor!' Giresci gasped. 'A psychiatrist, anyway.'
Dragosani ignored him. He understood all now. He crossed to the small occasional table, took up his gun from where he'd placed it, jammed it firmly into its under-arm holster. He made to stride from the room, stopped and turned back. Giresci cringed away from him as he approached.
Too much!' the oldster was babbling. 'You know far too much. I don't know who you are, but - '
'Listen to me,' said Dragosani.
' - I don't even know what you are! Dragosani, I - '
Dragosani back-handed him, bruising his mouth and jerking his head round on his scrawny neck. 'Listen, I said!'
When Giresci turned his watering eyes back to Dragosani, they had gone wide with shock. 'I... I'm listening.'
Two things,' Dragosani told him. 'One: you will tell no one else about Faethor Ferenczy or what you've discovered of him. Two: you will never mention the name of Thibor Ferenczy again, or ever attempt to learn more than you already know of him. Is this understood?'
Giresci nodded, and in the next second his eyes went wider still. 'Y - you?' he said.
Dragosani laughed, however shrilly. 'Me? Man, if I were Thibor you'd be dead now. No, but I know of him -and now he knows of you!' He turned towards the door, paused and tossed back over his shoulder: 'It's possible you'll be hearing from me. Till then, goodbye. And Giresci - mark well what I've said.'
Leaving the house and moving into sunlight, Dragosani groaned and gritted his teeth... but the sun did him no harm. Still, he doubted if he would ever feel entirely comfortable under its rays again. It was not Dragosani who had felt the sun's sting in Giresci's house but Thibor, the old devil in the ground. Thibor, who in that moment of time had been ascendant, in control! But even knowing that it was so, still Dragosani was glad to get out of the direct sunlight and into his car. The interior of the big Volga was like a furnace, but the heat was in no way supernatural. As Dragosani wound the windows down and pulled away, heading for the main road, so the temperature dropped and he breathed easier.
And only then did he reach into his mind to dig out the leech-thing which was still hiding there. For he knew that if Thibor could reach him, then surely he could reach Thibor.
'Oh, yes, I know your name now, old devil,' he said. It was you, Thibor, wasn't it, back there at Giresci's? It was you, guiding my tongue, asking him those questions?'
For a moment there was nothing. Then:
/ won't deny it, Dragosani. But let's be reasonable: 1 did little to hide the fact of my presence. And no harm done. I was merely -
' You were testing your power!' Dragosani snapped. 'You tried to usurp my mind! You've been trying to do so for the last three years - and might have succeeded if I hadn't been so far away! I see it all now.'
What? Accusations? Remember, Dragosani, it was you came to me that time. Of your own free will, you invited me into your mind. You asked for my help with the woman, and I gave it willingly.
Too willingly!' Dragosani was bitter. 'I hurt that girl -or you did, through me. Your lust in my body ... I could barely control it. I might easily have killed her!'
You enjoyed it. (A sly whisper.)
'No, you enjoyed it! I was carried along by it. Well, and maybe she deserved it - but I don't deserve you sneaking into my mind like a thief to steal my thoughts. And your lust has stayed in my body - which you must have known it would! My invitation wasn't permanent, old dragon. Anyway, I've learned my lesson. You're not to be trusted. Not in any way. You're treacherous.'
What? the voice in Dragosani's head made mock of him. /, treacherous? Dragosani, I am your father...
'Father of lies!' Dragosani answered.
How have I lied?
'In many ways. You were weak three years ago, and I brought you food. I gave you back a measure of your strength. You scorned pig's blood and said it was good only for freshening the earth. A lie! It freshened you. It gave you a lasting strength sufficient that you could reach out your mind to me even these three years later and in the full light of day! Well, I'll feed you no more. Also, you said sunlight would merely irritate you. Another lie, for I've felt how it burns you. And how many other lies have you told to me? No, Thibor, you do nothing except for your own advantage. I always guessed it, but now I know for sure.'
And what will you do about it? (Did Dragosani detect a tremor of fear in the mental voice? Was the Thing in the ground worried?)
'Nothing,' he answered.
'Nothing at all. Perhaps I made a mistake, seeking to be as you were, desiring to be one of the Wamphyri. Perhaps I'll now go away from here - and this time stay away - and let the years complete their work on you. I may have temporarily given your stinking bones something of flesh, something of life, but the centuries will take it all back again, I'm sure.'
Dragosani, no! (Real fear now, panic.) Listen: I wasn't testing my power. I wasn't testing anything. Do you remember how I told you I was not unique, that others of the Wamphyri were extant even now? I said that for centuries I had waited for them to come and release or avenge me, and they came not. Do you remember that?
'Yes, what of it?'
Why, can't you see? If our roles were reversed, would you have been able to resist? You gave me the opportunity to find out about those others, to learn what had become of them. Old Faethor, who was my father, dead at last! And Janos, a brother of mine who always hated me, exploded in the gasses of what he kept in his dungeons. Aye, dead and gone, both of them - and I for one glad of it! What? Didn't they leave me rotting in the earth for half a millennium? Oh, they heard me calling down all those
bitter nights, be sure of it - but did they come to set me free? Not them! So Ladislau Giresci fancies himself a tracker of vampires, does he? But I would have shown him how to track them, who left me to the dirt and the worms and the seep of centuries, when I rise up from this place! Ah, well, they are gone now, and my vengeance with them...
Dragosani smiled grimly. 'I can't help asking myself, Thibor, why they deserted you and left you to your fate? Your own father, for instance, Faethor Ferenczy: who would know you better than him? And why did your brother, Janos, hate you so? There's more to you than meets the eye, eh, Thibor? A black sheep among vampires! Who ever heard of such a thing? But why not? -you yourself have mentioned your excesses more than once. And I have personal recollections of them. Do the things you've done bother even your conscience? Or are the Wamphyri, and you in particular, without conscience?'
You make much of very little, Dragosani.
'Oh? I don't think so. I'm only just beginning to learn about you, Thibor. When you aren't lying outright, then you're obscuring the truth. It's the way you are; you don't know any other way.'
The vampire was furious. You find it easy to insult me because you know I may not strike you! How have I obscured the truth?
'How? Haven't you said that I "gave" you the opportunity to discover what had become of these kin of yours? But in fact you made your own opportunity. It wasn't my intention when I started out from Moscow to go to the library in Pitesti, Thibor, so who put that thought in my head again, eh? And when you learned of Ladislau Giresci, why, I just had to go and see him, didn't I?'
Listen, Dragosani -
'No, you listen. You used me. Used me just as the vampire of popular fiction uses his human vassals, just as you used your Szekely serfs five hundred years ago. But I'm no serf, Thibor Ferenczy, and that's your big mistake. It's one you'll come to regret, too.'
Dragosani, I -
'I'll hear no more talk, old dragon, not from your forked tongue. There's only one thing you can do for me now: get yourself out of my mind!'
Dragosani's mind was fully developed now, trained, sharp as one of his own scalpels. Case-hardened by the necromancy which this very vampire had inspired in him, its cutting edge was swift and deadly. In its action it was keener than an ordinary man's is over that of a mongol -but how strong was it? Now Dragosani put it to the test. He squeezed with his mind, thrusting the monster out, driving him away.
Ingrate! Thibor accused, retreating. But don't think it ends here. One day you'll need me, and then you'll return. Only don't wait too long, Dragosani. A year at most, and after that put aside all thoughts of ever acquiring Wamphyri knowledge, for you'll be too late. A year, my son, and no more than a year. I'll be waiting, and perhaps by then I will... have... forgiven you... Dragosaaniiii.../
Then he was gone.
Dragosani relaxed, breathed deeply, suddenly felt exhausted. It had been no easy thing, exorcising Thibor. The vampire had resisted, but Dragosani had been stronger. The real problem had not lain in getting him out - it would lie in keeping him out. Or perhaps not. Now that Dragosani knew Thibor was able to secretly insinuate himself in his being, he could maintain a watch for the old devil.
But as for his Romanian 'holiday': that was over before it had begun. Cursing, he savagely applied the brakes and slewed the Volga round in a half circle, then started back the way he had come. He was tired but sleep would have to wait. All Dragosani wanted now was to put distance between himself and the Thing in the ground.
Dragosani stopped just outside Bucharest for petrol and tried to raise Thibor. It was still full daylight but he got something: a faint response, a shiver in his mind that echoed like a coffin and wriggled like a graveworm. In Braida in the dusk he tried again. The presence was stronger as night drew on. Thibor was there and might have responded if Dragosani had given him the opportunity. He did not but closed his mind and drove on. At Reni, after passing through Customs, he let down all his defences and literally invited Thibor in. It was full night now but the whisper in his mind was faint, as if it came from a million miles away:
Dragosaaaniiii. Coward! You flee from me. An old creature trapped in the earth.
Tm no coward, old one. And I'm not fleeing but putting myself outside your range, where you can't reach me. And if you do manage to reach me, next time I'll know. You see, Thibor, you need me more than I need you. Now you can just lie there and think it over. I may come back one day and I may not. But when, if I do, it will be on my terms.'
Dragosani (the whisper was faint but urgent) I -
And behind him, Thibor Ferenczy's mental whisper was eaten up along with all the miles, and in a little while Dragosani felt safe to stop and sleep.
And dream his own dreams.
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