- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
Necroscope III: The Source
Inferno - Harry and Karen
'It's hard to tell,' said Khuv, beginning to breathe a little faster. 'He could be anywhere.'
'But he's just one,' Litve was starting to shake, his voice, too, 'and there are two of us. For God's sake don't get separated from me, Major!'
They turned right and followed the wooden path - an artificial and entirely familiar road through this alien landscape - into the heart of a magmass cavern, where the echoes of their footsteps resounded louder yet... and that was when the pitch and frequency of the alarms increased from a repetitive, mindless blaring to a definite cry of warning!
'What the hell - ?' Litve gasped.
That was Luchov,' said Khuv, 'telling us that something isn't right. Shit - we know that already!'
The laughter came again, and this time there was no mistaking its source: behind them. Also, Khuv recognized the voice as Agursky's beyond any shadow of doubt. So did Litve, apparently. 'He's tracking us,' he whispered.
'Let's find a vantage point,' Khuv moved faster, heading for the stairwell through to the core. That was the only way to go now, down to the core itself. But with still thirty or so paces to go to the final descent, Litve grabbed Khuv's elbow. '
'Look!' he croaked.
Khuv looked back. From behind a leaning magmass nodule, a shadow had fallen on the walkway. One that moved. Closer still, there was more movement: Khuv's and Litve's startled eyes went together to a heavy-duty cable where it snaked along the mad flow of the magmass wall. The cable jerked; its loops between staples contracted as something hauled on it. Almost before the meaning of this could dawn, there came a cry of combined pain and frustration from behind the same magmass nodule. The shadow on the walkway was highlighted, emboldened by flaring blue illumination and a shower of sputtering sparks. And it was a monstrous shadow!
Incapable as yet of movement, the two watched. The shadow - a single shadow - began to split in two. There came a rending sound, like sailcloth tearing, as the two halves of the shadow struggled to break apart - struggled and succeeded. Two of them now: one of which seemed human, and the other the size and roughly the shape of a dog, except it was not a dog. Then both of them moving back a little, merging with the shadow of the nodule, and a further moment of struggling with the power cable. There was more electrical sputtering and a second shower of sparks...
And the lights went out!
The two men backed toward the shaft going down to the core. Their legs were jelly but they forced movement out of them. A faint wash of light came from behind them, over their shoulders: residual light from the sphere-gate, shining up through the shaft. But along the walkway where they'd been, all was now night.
'If he - it - they are going to come,' Litve stuttered, 'then it has to be along this walkway.'
Khuv's throat was too dry and tight to answer, but he thought: that's right. They were both wrong. The thing from the tank, or rather metamorphic vampire material from the core of the thing in the tank - not dead but subsumed into Agursky, and now released to even up the score, two against two - didn't have to come that way at all. It came under the walkway!
Almost at the mouth of the shaft, where the walkway turned sharply to the left and once more descended as stairs, the thing struck. Something coiled up over the handrail, wrapped itself clingingly around Litve's waist, dragged him screaming through the shattering rail. He was there, beside Khuv, and he was gone. His flamethrower put forth a single blast of flame, and looking down Khuv saw what had him. The thing from the tank, yes: a great flat tentacled leech now, which smothered Litve's face and the upper half of his body like a mass of leprous dough, while its many-jointed 'limbs' wrapped him and crushed his body like so many pythons! And eyes in the surging filth of the thing, staring up unblinking at Khuv where he choked and gurgled on the walkway.
Litve's flame-thrower went clattering; Khuv knew that was the end of him; he aimed his own weapon and sent searing flame blasting into the heaving obscenity where it threshed on the magmass floor. Screaming his rage and terror, he burned it - burned it - burned it. Until the white heart of his torch turned yellow, hissed, crackled into silence, until the pilot-light itself went out. Then came Agursky's chuckle again, and through the reek and the smoke Khuv saw him coming. He saw him closing with him, his hands elongating, reaching...
He dropped his empty weapon, ran, stumbled, went flailing down the stairwell into the heart of the place; and down the stairs from the landing onto the boards of the Saturn's-rings perimeter. Agursky came close behind, chuckling, flowing, inexorably pursuing. Khuv looked back and saw him: the impossible gape of his jaws, the nightmare of his bone dagger teeth meshing like a mincer in the cavern of his mouth. He screamed and raced for the nearest Katushev cannon.
'Shit, shit!' he screamed, and: 'Oh, God! Oh mother of - ' He leaped up onto the Katushev's platform, slid into the gunner's chair, traversed the assembly to face Agursky where he loped after him. But ... he had no idea how to fire the thing!
Before Agursky could reach him, he leaped out of his seat, fled across the rings and onto the gantry bridging the gap to the sphere. The power was off and the gate in the electrical fence open; Khuv ran through it, reached the spot where the boards were scorched and blackened. The Gate was the only route open to him now, but better that than -
He skidded to a halt, threw up his hands before him to ward off... something he couldn't believe, something from the mind of a raving lunatic! He stared at the sphere and his eyes bulged, popped in his white mask of a face. Agursky had seen it, too, and he was likewise brought up short. And a third pair of eyes had seen it, had indeed been watching it for some time.
Up in Failsafe Control, Viktor Luchov waited no longer but threw the failsafe switch. He opened the floodgates to hell - because he had to, and for Khuv. For Khuv, yes, who even now turned his face to the closed circuit TV monitor and pleaded with him, begged him to do it. 'Do it!' the Major's face screamed silently at Luchov from the centre screen. 'For God's sake, Viktor, if you know the meaning of mercy - do it!"
Volatile liquids rushed and sprinklers commenced spraying all through the Projekt; plastic pipes began to blister as the liquid flowed faster; thousands of litres of the stuff flowed into the heart of Perchorsk, becoming vapour where it was exposed to air. Forced by the weight of fuel in the huge tanker, dragged downwards by gravity, it quickly saturated the complex, began to gush from an outlet into the core itself.
The core: where now Agursky knew he was finished and closed with Khuv, reaching for him. But the Major was no longer concerned with Agursky, only with the thing that was breaking through the screen of the sphere, only with the heaving, pulsating monstrosity of hooks and teeth and claws which wore the vast, bloated, nightmare distortion of ... of Karl Vyotsky's face!
But this was not, could not be, the Vyotsky who had gone into that other world; it was so radically different that its passage through the gate in the reverse direction had not been forbidden. It half-emerged, saw and fell upon the figures on the gantry and devoured them, and in the next moment was itself devoured. Somewhere, the deadly vapours had reached a naked flame. Incendiary fires raced through the Projekt in an unstoppable chain-reaction. The entire place detonated - exploded - like a vast bomb!
Viktor Luchov, gasping and almost fainting from his exertions, was hauled through the wicket-gate onto the marshalling area in the ravine under the cold night stars. They hurried him away from the giant doors, which in a little while were blown off their rollers like so much scrap metal. A shaft of fire roared out, bending like a waterfall to strike the dammed waters, sending clouds of steam boiling upwards.
Perchorsk was no more...
From the time of his early childhood, when he was maybe eight or nine years old, Harry Keogh remembered one especially bad dream. It had been repetitive, bothering him through many long nights, and even now - especially now - was not forgotten.
Where the idea had originated, he couldn't say. It might have come from some ancient medical book, or from the mind of one of his long-dead friends, may even have stemmed from a flash of precognition. But he could still remember it in detail. The long hall, brick walls, and the heavy wooden tables set end to end; the starving man stretched out on his back, lashed to the end table; his head firmly fixed between blocks of wood, a leather strap across his forehead to keep it tilted back, and his jaws propped wide open.
He lay there, conscious, skeletal, chest heaving and arms and legs straining where they, too, were lashed, and men in long white coats and a woman with a long-bladed hatchet watching him and nodding among themselves, tight-lipped. Then the men (doctors, maybe?) standing well back, and the woman with the hatchet laying her weapon down on the table farthest from the wretched man. Her departure through an arched doorway, and her return with a large plate of rancid fish.
The pictures were very vivid: the way she carefully took a piece of putrid fish and smeared it from directly in front of the man's face, all the way along the centre of the joined-up tables to the last one, before dropping it on the plate with the other stinking remnants. There was a screen at that end, where now she took her position, seated there with her cleaver in her hand, patience itself as she looked through a peephole in the screen and waited for it to happen. The way her eyes fixed upon the gaping mouth of the racked man.
Then the worst part of the dream, when the cestode came out of him, its segmented, ribbonlike body inching laboriously from his convulsing throat, writhing where it followed the fish-stink in its search for food. Blind, the tapeworm, but not without senses of its own, and not without hunger; its head flat on the table but swaying this way and that, creeping forward, and the hooked segments coming into view from the man's choking throat, one by one, releasing their hooks within him and venturing forth into daylight. For while the man was starving because of his worm, it was starving because of the doctors who hadn't fed him for five or six days!
Harry remembered it so well, that dream:
The length of the thing, covering first one six-foot table, then two, three, until it had been feared that six tables would not be enough. Twenty-five feet of it when at last the forked, scorpion tail appeared, trailing mucus and blood behind it. And at that one of the doctors had tensed, started to inch silently forward.
And the man on the table gurgling and gagging; the cestode worm creeping warily forward, but more avidly as the fish-stink thickened; the woman with her cleaver poised, waiting, her teeth drawn back from her lips in almost savage anticipation...
The parasite reaching the plate and its leech-head gorging... the cleaver flashing silver in those practiced female hands, shearing through the soft chitin and primitive guts of the thing... the doctor slapping his hand over the man's mouth, as the frantically writhing rear sections of the worm tried to wriggle back into him.
Which was always the point where Harry used to come yelping awake.
He came awake now, to the Lady Karen's voice asking some questions of him where they sat facing each other across her table; and he hoped he'd been able to keep the canvas of his mind shielded from her, so that she had not read the vivid thoughts painted there. 'I'm sorry? My mind was wandering.'
'I said,' she repeated herself, smiling, 'that you've been my guest through three sundowns, with another on its way soon, and still you haven't told me why you came -came willingly, of your own volition, into my aerie.'
For my son. 'Because you were a friend to The Dweller in a time of need,' he lied, keeping his mind-voice to himself, 'and because I'm curious and desired to see your aerie.' Also, because if I can find a cure for you I might be able to cure him.
She shrugged. 'But you've seen my aerie, Harry. Almost all of it. There are some things I have not shown you because you would find them... unpleasant. But you have seen the rest of it. So what keeps you here? You won't eat my food or even drink my water; there's really nothing here for you - except maybe danger.'
'Your vampire?' he raised an eyebrow. Your cestode, with its hooks in your heart and your guts and your brain?
'Of course - except I no longer think of it as "my vampire". We are one.' She laughed, but not gaily - and a snake's tongue flickered behind her gleaming teeth. And her eyes were of a uniform, very deep scarlet. 'Oh, I fought it for a long time, but uselessly in the end. The battle in The Dweller's garden was the turning point, when I knew it was over and accepted that I am what I am. It was the battle and the power and the blood. Waiting, watchful, quiescent until then, that's what woke it up and brought it to ascendancy. But I mustn't think of it that way, for now we're the same creature. And I am Wamphyri!'
'You are warning me?' he said.
She looked away, gave an impatient toss of her head, looked back. 'I am telling you it were better if you went. The Dweller's father you may be, but you are innocent, Harry Keogh. And this is no place for innocence.'
Me, innocent? 'When I fell asleep in my room,' he said, ' - when I sat by my window and watched the gold fading on the distant peaks, before the last sundown - and woke up with a start, I dreamed you were standing over me.'
'I was, or had been,' she sighed. 'Harry, I have lusted after you.'
After me? Or after my blood? 'How?' 'In every way. My host is a woman, with a woman's needs. But I am Wamphyri, with the needs of a vampire.' 'You don't have to draw blood.' 'Wrong. The blood is the life.'
'Then by now you must be starved of life, for you haven't eaten. Not while I have been here.' He had taken his meals in the garden, travelling to and fro via the Mobius Continuum. But they'd been more snacks than meals proper, for he had not wanted to leave her alone too long, had not wanted to miss... anything.
When she spoke again her voice was cold. 'Harry, if you insist on staying ... I cannot be held responsible.' Before he could answer she stood up, swept out of the great hall, disappeared from view in that regal way of hers. Harry had not followed her before, had not spied on her in any depth. But the time had come and he knew it.
'Where is she going?' he asked the long-dead cartilage creatures where their corpses fashioned the stack's decor. A carved bone handrail following stairs between the upper levels answered him:
She descends, Harry, to her larder. Her hand falls on me even now.
Where like Drama! Doombody before her, she keeps a number of trogs in store, hibernating.
'She told me she had set her trogs free, sent them home.'
But not these, the handrail, once a trog itself, answered. These are for fashioning, and in times of siege for eating!
Harry went there, two levels down, saw Karen flow in through a dark niche doorway and followed her. A trog had been activated, brought out of its cocoon. Harry stayed in the shadows, guarded his thoughts. He watched Karen lead the trog to the table. The creature, shambling, only half-awake, enthralled, lay down, bent back its ugly prehistoric head for her.
Her mouth opened, opened - gaped! Blood dripped from her gums where scythe-teeth sprouted to poise over the creature's sluggishly pulsing jugular. Her nose wrinkled, flattened back on itself, and her eyes were crimson jewels in the twilight room.
"Karen.r Harry shouted.
She snapped upright, hissed at him, cursed him long and loud - then swept by him in a fury and was gone. There was no putting it off any longer; knowing what he must do, Harry went again to the garden...
He trapped her at sunup while she slept in her windowless room. He put silver chains on her door, which he left open no more than four or five inches, and arranged potted kneblasch plants whose stink sickened even him. Their smell woke her up and she cried: 'Harry, what have you done?'
'Be calm,' he told her from outside, 'for there's nothing you can do about it.'
'Oh?' she raged, rushing all about her room. 'Is it so?'
She sent commands to her warrior: Come, free me! But there was no answer.
'Burned,' Harry told her. 'And the trogs in your larder activated, all fled. And your siphoneer - that pitiful, monstrous thing - dead from the water which I poisoned in your wells. Your gas-beasts, too, themselves poisoned with unbreathable gasses. Now there's just you.'
She wept and pleaded with him then. 'What will you do with me? Will you burn me, too?'
He made no answer but went away...
He checked on her, every three or four hours returning to test the chains on her door, or water the kneblasch plants, but never letting her see him. Sometimes she was asleep, moaning in her red dreams, and at others she was awake, raving and cursing. Harry slept in the aerie only once at that time - and on that occasion woke up to find himself at her door, called there by Karen! It strengthened his resolve.
Another time: she was quite naked, telling him how she loved him, wanted him, needed him. But he knew what she needed. He ignored her lustful, luscious writhings and went away.
Five more sunups came and went, and Karen sank into delirium. And when it was sundown again she slept and could not be brought awake. It was time.
Harry cleared away the kneblasch but kept the chains on the door; as before, he left only a small gap. Then he went to the garden and fetched a piglet, which he slaughtered into a golden bowl. He made a thin trail of blood from the door of Karen's room, into the great hall, where he laid the bowl on the floor in the centre of the room. The poor creature lay there, stiff in an inch of its own blood.
And then Harry waited, sitting in the shadows, quiet as never before and guarding his thoughts. And it was just like his dream, but worse. For this time he was there, and he was the one with the cleaver. Except it wasn't a cleaver.
Eventually the vampire left Karen (how, by what route, Harry neither knew nor wanted to know) and began to follow the bloody trail. Swaying its head this way and that, it entered the hall, inched forward towards the bowl. It was a long leech, corrugated, cobra-headed, blind, with many hooks. And it had pointed udders, a great many of them, along its grey, pulsating underbelly.
It sensed the blood, came on faster - then sensed Harry! It began a hasty retreat, curled back on itself and wriggled like a blindworm. Harry stepped into the Mobius Continuum, stepped out again at the door of Karen's room. The vampire came crawling, saw him, but too late. He aimed his flame-thrower and burned it. Dying, it issued eggs, a great many of them, which rolled and skittered, vibrating across the floor toward him. Sweating, but cold inside, Harry burned them all. Until all that was left was the awful smell, and the screaming.
Karen's screaming ...
Exhausted, Harry slept. He slept in the aerie, because there was no longer anything there to fear. He dreamed that Karen stood over him in her white gown - that gown she had worn so revealingly for the Wamphyri Lords -and explained why he was the most miserable of all men. His victory was ashes. She had been Wamphyri, and now she was a shell. He thought he had won, but he had lost. When one has known the power, the freedom, the magnified emotions of the vampire... what is there after that? She told him she pitied him, for she knew why he had done what he had done - and he had failed. And then she said goodbye. He woke up, looked for her. No longer Wamphyri, she had taken the chains from her door, escaped. He searched the stack top to bottom, came and went through the Mobius Continuum until he was dizzy, but he couldn't find her. Eventually he went out onto her high balcony and looked down. Karen's white dress lay crumpled on the scree more than a kilometer below, no longer entirely white but red, too.
And Karen was inside it ...
In the garden, the damage done in the fighting had been very nearly put to rights. Travellers worked at it during sunups, and trogs through the dark sundowns. And meanwhile the message had gone out: the Wamphyri are no more! Streams of Travellers, entire tribes, were en route even now, coming to celebrate and worship at the feet of their saviour. Jazz and Zek, and Wolf, too, had gone home, conveyed to that distant place by The Dweller, who had then returned.
And all in all, The Dweller was well satisfied with his work.
But... feeling a burning on his neck, Harry Jnr turned from where he supervised the rebuilding of the wall, turned to glance at a rising hummock of ground a little way apart. Someone stood there, someone who watched him intently, silently. Someone whose mind was sealed tight as a limpet to its rock. Harry Jnr frowned, peered for a moment through the holes in his golden mask, then smiled. It was only his father.
He waved and went back to work...
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold