Necroscope III: The Source
Harry and 'Friends' - The Second Gate
Harry had slept the clock round, and toward the end he dreamed. Not knowing he dreamed, it seemed to him that he had always existed in this timeless, lightless limbo, and that now someone called to him from far, far away.
Harry! Harry! You're asleep, Harry Keogh - but the dead are awake! They've begged a boon of me - of me! -whom hitherto they shunned utterly. And I have agreed to talk to you; but when I sought you out, I discovered only a sleeping mind. Jumbled memories and dreams and intricate mind-puzzles. Pictures of an existence beyond existence! A strange thing, your sleeping mind, Harry, and not one with which I may readily converse. So stir yourself! Faethor Ferenczy offers his services...
Faethor? Harry snapped awake, sat bolt upright in his bed. Cold sweat drenched his brow, slimed his trembling limbs. A nightmare, yes: he'd dreamed that Faethor Ferenczy called to him in his sleep. A man shouldn't dream about creatures like Faethor, not even when they were dead and no longer capable of mischief. A dream like that was the worst possible omen. But -
A dream? The glutinous, far-away voice sounded again in Harry's Mobius-orientated mind. A nightmare? Hardly flattering, Harry! And Faethor's ancient, dead-undead mental chuckle came across all the miles between, came unerringly, tingling at the edges of Harry's still sluggish perceptions. But he was awake now, and the thing was no longer nightmare but reality. It was his business; it was what a Necroscope is all about; and now that he knew it was real it was no longer frightening. His limbs stopped shaking and he peered about the room. The blinds were drawn but slices of light made faded bands on the wall opposite the windows. An electric bedside clock said that the time was three in the afternoon.
'Faethor?' Harry said. 'The last time I spoke to you was at your old place under the Moldavian Alps. At that time I got the impression I'd heard the last from you. Has something changed that? Anyway, I'm still in your debt, so if there's something...?'
What? the other's dark chuckle was sly now, insinuating. Something you can do for me? That's a fine macabre sense of humour you have there, Harry! No, there's nothing you can do for me. But perhaps there is something 1 can do for you. Didn't you hear what I said? Were you that deeply asleep? I said that the teeming dead have begged my assistance, and that I have agreed to help -if I can.
'Eh? The dead, talking to you?' Harry slowly shook his head in astonishment. 'There must be something they want pretty badly.'
Aye, but not for themselves, Harry - for you! They've spoken to me of a quest, your quest, and asked for my guidance. And in this they've shown a deal more wisdom than you. For who would know better the secret source of vampires than an ex-member of the Wamphyri himself, eh?
Harry gaped. The source of vampires! The place where they originated! The world in which they were spawned, to come through into this world - as they had now started to come through the gate in Perchorsk!
'And do you know this secret source?' Harry couldn't conceal the eagerness in his voice and thoughts. 'Did you yourself come from that place?'
Myself? Was I once an inhabitant of that world of vampire legend? Ah, no, Harry - but my grandfather was.
'Your grandfather? Do you know where he lies, where his remains are buried?'
Buried? Old Belos Pheropzis? Alas, no, Harry. The Romans crucified and burned him a hundred years before your Christ. And my father: the last word I had of him was that he was lost at sea, somewhere off the mouths of the Danube in the Black Sea, in the Year 547. He was a mercenary for the Ostrogoths against Justinian, but of course he was on the wrong side. Ah, we Wamphyri were a fierce lot in our day! There was a living to be made, if you'd the stomach for it.
Then how can you help me?' Harry was perplexed. 'It seems to me that something like a thousand years separates your grandfather's era and yours. Whatever he knew about his origins - about this source world - must have died with him.'
But there are legends, Harry! There are memories, stories Old Belos told his son Waldemar, which he in turn passed down to me. They are as fresh now in my mind as they were the day I heard them. I kept them fresh, for they were the only Wamphyri history I was ever likely to know. I was still in thrall to my father at that time. If Thibor, that ingrate, had ever spent his apprenticeship with me, then I would have passed the legends down to him. But of course he never did. Now, if you in your turn would learn these things - which might well provide the clues you need to complete your quest - then come to me in my place and talk to me, as we talked once before.
Faethor's voice was faint now. Killed in a bombing raid in World War II and burned to ashes, what was left of him had seeped into the earth where once stood his house on the outskirts of Ploiesti toward Bucharest. It must be an effort for one such as he to speak across all these miles, after all this time. On the other hand, Harry was well aware of the devious nature of the vampire - of all vampires. To his knowledge they rarely did anything which was not of benefit to themselves. But there again, in the past Faethor had not been orthodox. Harry could never 'like' or ever really 'trust' him, but he did in a way respect him.
'No strings?' he said.
Strings? I'm a dead thing, Harry. Nothing remains of me but my voice. And only you can hear it - and the dead, of course, when they choose to listen. Even my voice is fading with the years. But... (Harry sensed his shrug) do as you will. I am merely respecting the wishes of the dead.
Harry would have to be satisfied with that. 'I'll come,' he told the other. 'But as well as hungry for knowledge, I'm plain hungry too! Give me an hour and I'll be there.'
Take your time, Faethor answered. I've plenty of it. But do you remember the way? His voice was dwindling now, shrinking into deep distances of mind.
'Oh, I remember it well enough!'
Then I'll wait for you. And then, perhaps, the Great Majority will see fit to leave me in peace...
Harry washed and shaved, had a change of clothes, 'breakfasted' and contacted E-Branch. He quickly told Darcy Clarke what he'd done, and what he was about to do. Clarke offered a cautionary 'take care' and Harry was ready.
He used the Mobius Continuum and went to Ploiesti.
The scene was much the same as it had been eight years earlier: Faethor's house on the outskirts of the town was one of several burned-out shells lying half-buried in heaps of overgrown rubble, stony corpses in what was otherwise open countryside. It was dark here, around 6:50 p.m. Middle European Time, but there was still enough light for Harry to find himself a tumbled wall and take a seat. And he had remembered the way: he could feel Faethor's presence lying like a shroud on the place, albeit one which was slowly returning to dust. A very faint nimbus of light glowed on the western horizon, beyond the Carpathians in the direction of home.
All around Harry was desolation, made worse by the feel of winter in the air. He shivered, but entirely because of the chill he could feel slowly working its way into his bones. In summer this place would have a certain wild beauty, when the old bomb craters would be masked by flowers and unchecked brambles, and the skeletal walls covered with lush ivy. In the winter, however, the snow would bring the perspective back to gaunt, monochrome reality. The devastation would be obvious, incapable of disguise. It would always be a reminder, and that was probably why the Romanians would never rebuild here.
One of the reasons, anyway, Faethor agreed. But I have always liked to believe that I was the main reason. I don't want people building here. Since Thibor destroyed my old place I've had several homes, but this was the last of them. This is where I am, so to speak. So now, when people come nosing around and I feel their footfalls -
' - You sort of gloom over the place. You exert an influence, your aura.' You've noticed.
Harry shivered again, but still only from the cold. 'How about your legends, Faethor?' he said. 'I don't like to rush you, but I've never yet spoken to one of your sort who told me anything in plain, simple language! And time is precious. It could be that lives are at stake.'
At 'stake'? An unfortunate choice of words. Do you mean human lives? In that other world? Ah, but they always have been!
'I mean lives which are important to me. You see, I think people have found a way into that place, that source world. Some of whom are, or were, very dear to me.'
He sensed Faethor's nod (for the fact is that people nod 417
with their minds as well as their heads). So I have been informed - er, by the dead, of course. Very well, the legends:
'Wait,' said Harry. 'First tell me, what's in this for you? Oh, I know you've said there are no strings attached, but still I can't imagine you'll help me out of the goodness of your heart.'
Faethor's chuckle grew into a laugh. Not a pleasant thing. Ah! - but you know us well, Harry Keogh. Very well, I'll tell you:
My grandfather, Belos, was exiled from his aerie, his world, his heritage, by the Wamphyri. He had grown too strong. They feared him mightily, and when their chance came they tricked, entrapped, expelled him. His lands and properties were stolen and he found himself here, in this world. He wasn't the first or the last, and if things don't change there may well be others still to come. Now I never knew Belos, who was dead before Waldemar passed on his egg to me, but I do know that if he had not been so badly treated then I would now be one of the Wamphyri in my rightful place - in the source world! When they expelled him they not only stole his heritage but denied Waldemar his after him and also mine. For that reason, and despite the years flown in between, Belos is worth avenging.
'You're going to help me find my way into that world for revenge?' Harry frowned. 'I don't intend to look anyone up for you, Faethor. As I see it, it will be a case of in, rescue, retreat. I won't be staying there long enough to write off any old scores.'
Oh? And you know all about this place you're searching for, do you? (A certain amusement in Faethor's tone.) Get in, rescue your loved ones, or whatever, and get out again. As simple as that...
'Something like that, yes.' But Harry was less certain now.
Again Faethor's shrug. Well... possibly. But I see it differently. For after all, you are Harry Keogh! And the fact is that in your use of your special talents you have been a dire force against vampires in this world. You've dealt with my treacherous son Thibor, with Boris Dragosani, Yulian Bodescu - the list is impressive. My feeling is that when you enter into the source world, then things are almost bound to happen. I believe that you are the catalyst which will change, perhaps even destroy, the old balance. So all I require of you is this: that if the time should come and someone should ask you, 'Who are you?' - then you will answer him that Belos sent you. Is that too much to ask?
'No, you have a deal,' Harry agreed. 'So now tell me what you know. First about Perchorsk.' Eh? (Surprise.) I never heard of it. Harry quickly explained.
That may well be one way into, or out of, the source world, Faethor answered, but it is not the old route. Now listen: this is what Old Belos told my father, which he in turn told me. The Wamphyri sent him into the hell-lands (this world) through a shining white door in the shape of a sphere. Yes, the very duplicate of this sphere you've mentioned at Perchorsk. But Perchorsk is in the upper Urals, and Belos's exit-point was far removed from there. 'So where did Belos surface?'
'Surface' is the wrong word. Rather he 'descended'. Inside the sphere he fell. He was aware of falling - as if into hell! It was as if he plunged down the throat of a great white luminous shaft whose walls were so far distant he could not see them. He fell, and yet at no great speed, or so he believed. And he must have been correct in that belief, for when he emerged he was still falling! He fell out of the sphere - the gate of entry - into this world. 'Where?' Harry was eager again.
'Like at Perchorsk?'
Unlike Perchorsk. Belos gathered his senses, looked all around. The sphere he had fallen through was embedded in the ceiling of a great horizontal borehole, over a ledge of smooth dripstone. Through the bed of the bore rushed a black, gurgling river. Belos knew not where it came from, nor where it went. All around the sphere where it hung suspended, great holes were apparent in the ceiling - like these magmass holes of yours at Perchorsk. Likewise in the ledge where Belos had landed. The extent of the cave, and its ledge, was not great. Where the river rushed from cave into darkness, the gap between ceiling and water came down to a few inches. The ledge was large enough for a man to walk maybe ten paces this way, ten paces that, before it narrowed down and smoothed into the glistening wall of the bore. There was no way out. Or there was, if a man had the stomach for it.
'A subterranean sump!' said Harry.
Exactly. The river might run for miles. It might never surface at all! That was Belos's predicament...
Others had been there before him, and some of them were still there. He found their remains, ossified. Things he called 'trogs', and 'Travellers', even the skulls and mummified remains of Wamphyri, who'd preferred to sit here on the ledge and wither rather than risk the unknown. But Belos's heart was bigger than that.
'He dared the river?' Harry was fascinated.
Faethor's shrug. What else could he do? First he tried to re-enter the sphere, of course, but it rejected him. When he held up his arms to plunge them into its light, they were repelled. The Gate into the hell-lands had closed on him. But to sit here with these others and stiffen into stone was not his way. He would go now, while he still had all of his great strength.
Now, Harry, I suppose you have heard this myth, how vampires fear running water?
'Next to you,' said Harry, Tm the world's greatest expert on vampires! Or as much of one as you'll find, anyway. You're going to tell me the myth stems from this underground river, which the Wamphyri had to overcome to make their way to the surface of this world, right?'
Thibor had a different explanation.'
Faethor sighed. Thibor didn't know, as I've explained. He could have learned so much from me, that one. But not knowing, he obviously invented an explanation. Devious, as you've said.
'I've said that of all of you,' Harry reminded. 'But you've side-tracked. Get back to the point.'
Very well, but the underground river is the source of that particular myth. A vampire is flesh and blood and bone, Harry. Immerse him in water long enough and he will die. Now let me get on:
Belos braved the river, was washed along downstream. At times his head was above water, but there were other desperate moments when the gap narrowed to nothing, so that he was pushed under. It seemed a long time before the ceiling receded, before natural light returned, glimmering at the end of the watercourse. Then came the resurgence, into a basin, which emptied itself into a sluggish river. But this time, as I've said, on the surface. Bedraggled and a little battered, coughing up the river water until he thought he'd dislodge his lungs, at last Old Belos was in this world!
The time - the era - was some three hundred years before your Christ. And the place...
'Yes?' Harry could scarcely contain himself.
As the crow flies: one hundred and seventy miles from the very spot where you now stand!
And indeed Harry was on his feet. 'Where, exactly?' he asked.
Near Radujevac, on the Dunarea, Faethor told him. Or on the banks of the Danube, as it might be better known to you. That's where you'll find this resurgence. It is the source of the legend, and the legend is the source of the Wamphyri! Will you go there now, at once?
'Now? No,' Harry shook his head. 'Tonight I plan. I go there tomorrow.' He stood there in the darkness and sighed.
A weight off your shoulders, Harry?
'Perhaps - or maybe it's just one more burden.'
I have kept my part of the bargain.
'And I'll keep mine, if the time should come. Meanwhile, you have my thanks.'
Aye, and those of the teeming dead. Hah! Talk about legends! But your own legend is spreading, Harry. And soon to spread much farther, I think. I bid you farewell
Harry beat his arms across his body, loosening the stiffness in his joints and driving out the cold. Then:
'Goodbye, Faethor,' he said. And as always, the Mobius Continuum was waiting to welcome him...
Harry's plans and preparations were the simplest of things, easily carried out. Back at E-Branch HQ he told Darcy Clarke what he required, and while the items were being assembled he brought Clarke up to date and went a little deeper into detailing what the boss of E-Branch already knew.
When he'd finished Clarke said: 'Let's get this right. You're going to Romania, the Danube in the vicinity of Radujevac, where you'll travel upstream along the course of an underground river, right?'
'Somewhere up there you expect to find a Gate like the one at Perchorsk, except there won't be anyone who'll shoot you dead on sight.'
There might well be people there,' said Harry. 'A handful, maybe, but they won't shoot at me. They won't be able to. If I know my business they'll welcome me; they may even have valuable information for me.'
Clarke looked at him and thought: Dear God! - he's human but he's so bloody inhuman! Out loud, quietly, he said: 'Dead people, right?'
'Corpses, yes. Maybe not even that. Maybe just memories of people.'
Now Clarke shuddered, long and visibly and violently. He was remembering the Bodescu affair, a time when he'd witnessed with his own eyes the unbelievable extent of Harry's power over the dead. Or rather, the result of their respect for him. In fact it hadn't been Harry who called up the dead that time but his son, the then infant Harry Jnr. But Harry could do it too, when he had the need.
Finally Clarke steadied himself and continued. 'And having found this Gate, then you'll use it to go ... wherever! To another world, the place where your wife and son are. And presumably Jazz Simmons, too.'
Harry nodded. 'And Zek Foener, and maybe one or two others. If they're still alive, and you know I believe they are, then I should have some friends there -1 think. But I may also have enemies. At least one, anyway: a KGB thug called Karl Vyotsky.'
'But assuming everything works out OK, then you'll speak to Brenda, Harry Jnr, and when that's done you'll see who wants to come back with you?'
'Something like that, except I still don't know if there's a way back. Remember, I know that nothing from this world has ever got back here, and I know that nothing that's come here can ever go back there! Does that make sense? Anyway, that's the way it is.'
'In short, you're risking your life.'
'Do you want it done or don't you?'
'I want it done, yes; in my own way I'm as curious as you are. And the next thing I want is to see Perchorsk closed down. Even if they don't make those things there, still it's a time-bomb.'
Harry nodded. 'I feel the same way about it - but I have Viktor Luchov's word that nothing will ever escape from Perchorsk again. That's good enough for me.'
Clarke gave a snort. 'Harry, your word is good enough for me any time, but I'm just one small cog in a very big wheel. I don't suppose that anyone is going to take preemptive or any other sort of action against Perchorsk. Especially not now, in this new climate of "political understanding," but if something else does escape...' He threw up his hands.
'Then it would be right out of your hands, I know,' Harry answered.
Again Clarke's snort. 'Right out of control is more like it!' he answered.
'Well, and that's another reason for my going in,' Harry was almost fatalistic about it. To see if there's anything we can do about it - which is maybe better done from the other side.'
The two were silent a while, then Clarke said: 'Harry, the rest of your gear will take a little time to get hold of. But it's being done. It's very late now and I'm overdue for my bed. I'll catch a couple of hours and be here to see you off in the morning. Before I go, is there anything else I can do for you? And what will you do with yourself for the rest of the night?'
Harry shrugged. 'Oh, I'm not tired,' he said, 'but I will try to get some sleep later. It's silly, I know, but I'd rather tackle that underground river during the daylight hours. I mean, I could go tonight, but I don't fancy that.'
'Silly? What's silly about it?'
'Because day or night will make no difference down there. It's pitch dark all the time. It's just that I'll feel happier knowing it's daylight outside. But anyway, before I do anything I have to speak to Mobius again.'
Lost for words, Clarke shook his head. Harry always had this effect on him. 'You know,' he finally said, 'we're both part of the same world, you and I, but when you talk like that, so naturally, matter-of-factly - about the dead, and about these talents of yours, the Mobius Continuum and what all; the way you say: "I'm going to speak to Mobius", just like that - Jesus, it's like you're an alien! Or else it's like I'm a small kid again. I mean, I know what you can do, I've experienced it. But still I sometimes doubt my own senses.'
Harry smiled, open and honest. 'And you're the boss of E-Branch!' he said. 'Maybe you've got the wrong job, Darcy.'
He waited until Clarke had left before he went to see Mobius...
In Leipzig it was 10:30 a.m. and the graveyard was locked for the night. But of course Harry didn't go in through the gates but through a door, went to see the man who'd taught him to unlock all such doors.
Harry, my boy, I'm glad you've come, said Mobius. I've been doing some thinking about this conjectural parallel universe of yours.
'It gets less conjectural all the time,' Harry told him. 'Only its nature is conjectural now.' And he quickly brought the dead mathematician up to date.
Fascinating! said Mobius. And indeed it confirms my own thoughts on the matter.
'Well, I have to admit it only baffles me,' said Harry. There is light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, but ... I mean if there are two gates on this side, why does there only appear to be one on the other?'
Only one? What makes you say that?
'Faethor talked about a shining white door in the shape of a sphere. One door. If there'd been two, wouldn't Old Belos have mentioned the fact?'
Well, whether he did or didn't, there are two, I assure you. Mobius sounded convinced. Two on this side, and two on that. I can explain the principle very simply, without going into a lot of mathematical detail.
'I'm all ears,' said Harry.
Right, Mobius got down to business. Let's consider these 'gateways' a little less intensely, a little more basically. These 'doors' which defy the physical laws of that state which we call space-time. We know there are several sorts, and that all of them warp the 'skin' of this space-time dimension. Modern scientists readily admit of one such: the black hole. And they make guesses about another sort, which they've termed white holes. In fact a current theory has it that white and black holes are two ends of the same tunnel. The black sucks material in, and the white expels it. Agreed?
Harry nodded. 'So I understand,' he said.
Very well. Now, even if the theory is wrong and they're not two sides of the same coin, there remains one factor common to both.
That they're both one-way systems.' Once you enter a black hole, you don't get out again. And once you've been expelled from a white hole, there's no way back in. The way I see it, the same thing applies to your grey holes: this Gate at Perchorsk, and the second Gate which you believe lies somewhere along the course of this underground river.
Each of them! Emphasis on 'each'. You go in through one, and you come out through the other!
It stopped Harry dead in his tracks. Finally he said: That's brilliant! Once you use a Gate, it's out of bounds. Having passed you through, it won't accept you again, no matter which end you started out from. But a second gate will! So all I have to do is find the second Gate. In fact, I already know where it is! It's the Gate the Wamphyri have been using to send their monstrosities through to Perchorsk.'
Ah, but that's what it is, not where it is, said Mobius.
'It's a step in the right direction, anyway,' Harry replied. Then he sobered a little. There is however one small drawback. If I come through that Gate into Perchorsk, they'll not only shoot me, they'll probably fry me, too!'
Ah-! but here Mobius could only shrug.
Thanks, anyway,' said Harry. 'You've confirmed what I was already suspecting: that there have to be two Gates. The Wamphyri have been using one for thousands of years, and now they've started using the new one, which Luchov and his crowd inadvertently blasted into being at Perchorsk. It's the only explanation. So ... if you'll excuse me now I'll be on my way. I have to say goodbye to my mother. She'd never forgive me if I did something like this without telling her.' He sighed. 'She'll want to try to talk me out of it - even knowing she can't. But... she's like that.'
All mothers are like that, Harry, said Mobius, very seriously. Good luck, my boy.
But in fact, luck would have very little to do with it...
The next morning Darcy Clarke met Harry at E-Branch HQ in London, and while Harry checked his equipment, making sure he knew how to use it, Clarke took the opportunity to pass on a little information.
'About this subterranean tributary of the Danube,' he said. 'Harry, it's a death-trap! I had it checked out overnight. Our man in Bucharest looked into it for you. The place is known well enough and we have its exact location. There are newspaper clippings concerning it, various bits of documentation. The locals have an immemorial dislike for it. In 1966 a couple of cavers took it on. It was summer and the tributary was running dry at the time. Four hours after they started in there was a flash flood up in the mountains. One body was washed out, the other lost forever. And these were experts.'
'And they were walking and swimming,' said Harry. 'I won't be.'
'I said I was going up to the watercourse, but I didn't say how.'
Clarke gasped, 'You'll use the Mobius Continuum?'
'Then why the wet-suit, aqualung and all?'
'Just in case.'
Clarke fell silent for a moment, then said: 'I was only trying to help.'
'And I appreciate it,' Harry told him. 'But I know my own business best.'
Ten minutes later he took up his gear in a waterproof kit-bag and went to Radujevac. From the outskirts of the town he caught a taxi into the countryside close to the location Clarke had given him. He paid his driver with money from the same source. With his bag over his shoulder he set off down a country track, eventually arriving at his destination. It was a wild place and there was no one around. Harry dumped his kit in a copse and covered the bag with dead branches, then returned to the site of the resurgence.
It was in the base of a cliff, overgrown with ivy, where limestone outcrops glistened with moisture. To the north-east stood the grey, forbidding Carpathians, and to the south sloping wooded countryside. Harry stood on the banks of the pool under the cliffs and looked again at the mountains, then down at the dark water where it gurgled into view from untold caverns of gloom. It issued from the mouth of a cave. This was the spot where Old Belos of the Wamphyri first entered our world. And others like him. And between here and those legendary mountains, somewhere underground, lay a gateway to an alien world. Now it was Harry's task to pin-point that Gate as accurately as possible before setting out up the river to find it.
He checked again that there was no one around, no one to see him take his departure. The place was silent, wooded, where only the birds sang and the cold water gurgled. But this time Harry was well muffled-up and didn't feel the cold.
He picked a spot in the foothills to the north-east, went there via the Mobius Continuum. The door from which he exited was the same as always: a 'hole' in the universe, with nothing to distinguish it from hundreds of other doors Harry had used. Harry moved again, even closer to the looming peaks. But this time when he emerged, the 'edges' of his door shimmered a little. It was the warning he'd been looking for, which told him he was close.
Very close, Harry, said a dead voice in his mind, surprising him. It felt like someone had come up close behind him and whispered in his ear.
'Do I know you?' He scanned the countryside around,' looked down on distant towns, Radujevac, Cujmir, Recea. They were smoky, wintry smudges on his horizon.
No, but I know you. Your mother has been making enquiries on your behalf.
Harry sighed. 'She means well,' he said. 'Has she disturbed you?'
Not at all. I'm happy to help. You intend to travel the length of the Radujevac resurgence, right? The voice was full of excitement, eagerness. Which was what gave its owner away.
'You were a caver,' said Harry. 'You died back in the summer of 1966, somewhere up that underground river.'
That's me, said the other, a little sadly. And I never did get to finish the job. My name is Gari Nadiscu, and if I'd made it the bore would have been named after me: the Nadiscu Route. It was a dream. Maybe you can finish it for me?
Harry said: 'Wait,' and transferred to the Mobius Continuum. 'Now talk to me,' he said. 'I want to get closer to you.' He followed the other's thoughts, emerged at the very foot of the mountains. And again the Mobius door shimmered, more than before, confirming Harry's belief that he was moving closer to the gate.
'You didn't do badly,' he told Nadiscu. 'You covered, oh, maybe nine miles before that flood hit you! Are you still down there?' He glanced at the stony mountain soil under his feet. 'I mean, is there anything left... you know? How did you get trapped? Your companion was washed out.'
Trapped, answered the other, grimly. That's the right word, Harry. I crawled onto a ledge. There was a crack in the wall. As the water rose I climbed deeper into the crack. Finally I got jammed, couldn't move. I was wearing a lung, of course. It was a bad time. I lasted as long as my air...
That must have been pretty terrible,' Harry commiserated. But:
Don't waste time on that, said the other. You've things to do. How can I help you?
Two things,' said Harry. 'One: what was the course of the river up to the time you... when the flood came? And two: how deep are you, as you calculate it, under the surface?'
Nadiscu supplied the answers and Harry thanked him. 'I won't be looking for the river's source,' he admitted, 'for it's a different kind of source that interests me. But if it all works out I'll come back some time and tell you how far I got. OK?'
Thanks, Harry. I'd appreciate that.
Harry used the Continuum and moved on into the mountains, exiting on a steep, pine-covered slope. This time the interference was such that Harry knew he was almost there. Directly below him, at some great depth in the roots of the mountains, the Gate to the world of the Wamphyri was waiting for him.
He calculated the distance to his starting point, fixed his location firmly in his head - his location not only in the mundane world but also in the metaphysical Mobius Continuum. It was a sort of mental triangulation. And then he went back to the copse where he'd hidden his gear.
Half an hour later, dressed in wet-suit and aqualung, equipped with fins and a powerful waterproof torch, Harry slipped into the water and conjured a Mobius door. No shimmer here. He moved upstream, emerging in darkness with his flippered feet on a pebbly bed. The darkness was absolute and there was a current strong enough to cause Harry to lean against it. He used his torch to scan the way ahead, its powerful beam cutting the dark like a knife. On the next jump his feet were still on the bottom but the bore had narrowed down, the water was chin-deep, the way ahead convoluted.
And so Harry proceeded.
Sometimes he swam; at other times he was underwater, where there was no gap between ceiling and river; occasionally the bore was wide as a cathedral and the water shallow. Almost before he knew it he found Gari Nadiscu in the crevice where he'd trapped himself. There was very little of him left: a single flipper and an air tank half-buried in shingle, and a trapped thigh bone.
Harry could have come to Nadiscu direct, he saw that now, but there could have been hazards. The caver had been trapped in a tight spot; Harry hadn't wanted to emerge in a cramped, difficult location. Also, and more importantly, Nadiscu might have been too close to the Gate. Harry had experienced the danger in using the Mobius Continuum close to a Gate; it was to be avoided. No, he'd preferred his own way. If there'd been difficulties, getting out again would have been as easy as conjuring a Mobius door. And this way he'd got used to his system of sighting the way ahead and then jumping there. Which was as well, for beyond this point the route was totally unknown.
Now: he and Nadiscu exchanged a few encouraging words, and Harry moved on.
Five minutes later, after a series of short jumps, Harry's exit door shimmered violently and seemed to bend back on itself. Harry emerged in deep water, swimming. He shone his torch ahead. The bore was almost circular, with maybe twelve inches between ceiling and water. He daren't use the Continuum again and so put all of his efforts to swimming. The current wasn't much but still it made for hard work.
Then, ahead, Harry saw a faintly luminous arc of light. He switched off his torch and hooked it to his belt, using both hands to aid his flippered feet in forging ahead. The arc expanded and the light grew stronger. White light!
Harry emerged into the cave of the sphere and gratefully hauled himself up onto the ledge - where he at once recoiled from what lay upon the moist floor! It was a headless corpse, running rapidly to decay. The head, also sloughing flesh, lay some little way along the ledge. 'Jesus!' Harry breathed. He had taken off his demand-valve attachment but now quickly replaced it to breathe bottled air. That was better. Then he examined the corpse more carefully - but without touching it. The severed spinal column was fat, reinforced with extra bone and sinew. It contained in effect two spines! Wamphyri! The head would likewise contain a composite brain, also turning to mush.
'Who were you?' Harry asked it.
I was Corlis, of the Lady Karen's aerie, the other moaned. Alas, I was too ambitious. Now go away - leave me to my misery.
Too ambitious?' Harry gulped. 'So it would appear!' He glanced up at the sphere and quickly looked away. The light was unbearable. From a zippered pocket he took out dark goggles and put them on, then looked all about. A little apart from the corpse lay a modern walkie-talkie radio, somewhat battered, its aerial fully extended. Harry stared at it, shook his head. He could see that it was a Russian model; beyond that it seemed pointless to conjecture.
There were various niches in the walls, together with the mouths of many magmass wormholes. When Harry saw what some of these contained, then he remembered Faethor's - or Belos's - story.
High up in the curved wall, one such sat with its shrivelled legs dangling over the rim of a magmass hole. The thing was mummified, where dripstone had fused its legs to the wall and commenced covering them with gleaming calcium. An eyeless skull, hideously misshapen, leaned out. Frozen in death, its gaping jaws were wolfish, toothed like a carnivore. The creature seemed to leer at Harry with a permanent, imperishable malignancy. He wasn't much worried; it had leered like that for a long, long time. Vampire killer! it suddenly accused.
Harry shrugged. 'I can't deny it. But on that score, it seems you at least have no worries. Nor any of you here.'
Now other voices joined the first: Impudent pup! And: This is a private place of the Wamphyri - begone! And: Who are you, to disturb our sleep of centuries?
'Sorry,' Harry shrugged, 'but I'm not dressed for conversation - polite or otherwise. But I'd better inform you: I know that to a man you're all exiles. You may have been high and mighty Wamphyri in your own world, but here you're just crumbling old dead things! That's how it goes. Now me, I won't hold your past against you, as long as you don't hold mine against me.'
After a moment of blank astonishment: You dare - !? they cried in one voice.
'Now it's cold in here,' Harry continued unperturbed. 'So I'm going to pick up a change of clothing. If by the time I return you're feeling more sociable, we can start over and no hard feelings. If not - ' again his shrug. 'It's your loss, as the teeming dead would doubtless testify - if they'd waste their time talking to such as you!'
Before they could answer he took up his torch and flippers, slipped back into the water. It was icy cold but it would only be for a moment. He let the river bob him downstream to a safe distance, then conjured a slightly warped door and floated through it. He fixed the location firmly in his mind, went back to the copse and his kit-bag.
There he took a long deep swig from a hip flask of brandy, tossed the flask away. He tied a fifty-foot length of nylon cord to the neck of the waterproof bag, went back to the midnight river and exited the Mobius Continuum into the water at the required location. As the kit-bag sank he swam furiously for the cave of the sphere. Climbing back onto the ledge, he hauled in the kit-bag and quickly changed into warm clothes. The bag also contained a heavy, special-issue machine-gun, which he now checked against the possibility of damp or damage. Everything seemed OK.
Ahhh - ! He was aware of a concerted mental sighing as he stood on the ledge and paused to wonder if he'd forgotten anything. He comes and goes like a ghost! He has a deal of magic!
Harry smiled. 'Oh, I've got some magic, all right,' he agreed. 'But as for being a ghost... I'm flesh and blood, and it's you fellows who - '
Harry! said a different voice, a very frightened, very primitive, guttural, almost animal voice in his mind. Be careful, Harry Keogh. It's dangerous to speak to the Wamphyri as you have spoken to them!
Harry found the speaker - a squat, dwarfish aboriginal creature - crouched in a cramped cavity apart from the others. A stalagmitic sheath had almost completely enveloped him, so that it seemed to Harry he conversed with what was very nearly a stone statue.
'You're not Wamphyri?' he said.
Hah! The others were part amused, part outraged. Him - that! - Wamphyri? A trog, you fool!
Trog?' Harry glanced from the trog to the others and back. 'Oh, yes, I remember! I was told I might find a trog or two here. Travellers, too, perhaps?'
Travellers, too, Harry, said yet another voice, much more human. But it sounded very distant, that voice, very faint and fading. Alas, we don't have the same durability as trogs and Wamphyri. I'm afraid we're little more than memories now.
'So, several sorts of people from the world beyond the Gate,' Harry mused. 'And none of you willing to help me, eh?' He adjusted his goggles, tightened the strap of his weapon across his shoulder. 'What, dead these thousands - or at least many hundreds - of years, you trogs and Travellers, and still the Wamphyri oppress you? I'd hoped to ask your advice.'
He looked up, gazed at the glaring white surface of the sphere. If he reached up a hand he could touch it.
Only ask it! Several Traveller voices spoke up. In our time we fought the Wamphyri. We staked them through their black hearts and burned them. But when they came to power, this is how they avenged themselves. Still, we have no regrets. So speak to us, Harry. We were not primitive, fearful trogs but men!
There was pride in their fading voices - then sudden panic as Harry stood on his toes, stretched a straining hand toward the surface of the glaring sphere where its huge globe bulged downward from the ceiling. HARRY -DON'T!
Too late - his hand had touched the sphere, broken the surface of its skin. He tried to snatch the hand back, which was about as much use as asking a hurled stone not to return to earth.
Harry heard the grim laughter of the Wamphyri, the groans of trogs and Travellers alike - felt himself grasped, drawn up, passed into the sphere. And in a moment the cave and gurgling river had disappeared from sight, and he floated up, up, weightless as a feather in a beam of white light, toward a different place -
- A different world!