Morning. Sunrise. Sunup!
The sun had risen up fifteen times since the battle for The Dweller's garden; risen up over the southwestern horizon, travelled a predestined path according to its cycle, sunk down again into the southeast. Fifteen times that low, warm, oh so lazy golden arc across the sky, making for a like number of sundowns.
Sundown: night, darkness, peril!
Sundown. A time of terror since time immemorial: when the last yellow glints would slip silently from the high crags of the great barrier range, until its topmost peaks turned a pale ochre, then ashen, finally wolf-grey and silver under the stars of Starside. A time of terror, yes ... but no longer. For the battle in The Dweller's garden had been fought and won, and the near-immortal masters of Starside's aeries, the Wamphyri, were immortal no longer. Indeed, they were either dead or flown into the Icelands. Of the latter, only a few had survived to flee.
Sundown, and nothing to fear from it. Not any more. It was strange ...
On the one side of the mountains, that closest to the sun (Sunside, with its forests and rivers, and, to the south, its pitiless furnace lands), daylight would persist for a further twenty-five hours; but on Starside the barrier mountains shut out the sun's life-giving warmth, leaving only the stars and the aurora over the Icelands to light the rugged land. So it had always been, so it would always be.
Except upon a time there had also been the Wamphyri! ... But now there was none. Not in Starside, anyway. No vampires here but one, and he was different. He was The Dweller.
And at the beginning of that new night, that fifteenth sundown in the New Age of Starside, The Dweller had called for Lardis Lidesci to attend him at his house in the garden high over Starside's boulder plains.
Lardis was a Traveller king, leader of one of Sunside's Szgany tribes. He was short, barrel-bodied, apelike in the length of his arms; his lank black hair framed a wrinkled, weather-beaten face, with a flattened nose and a wide mouth full of strong, uneven teeth. Under wild eyebrows, Lardis's brown eyes glittered his mind's agility, even as he himself was agile despite his stumpy shape. Yes, he was Szgany, and it showed.
"Szgany": in fact the word had two meanings. Starside's trogs, cavern-dwelling neanderthals, likewise called themselves Szgany. To them it meant "The Obedient Ones"--obedient to the Wamphyri! As for the genesis of Traveller usage, that was lost in time. Now when the Gypsies used the word to define other than a trog, it best described themselves, their way of life: tinkers, music-makers, seekers after refuge (often in deep caverns, like the dwelling places of the trogs), wandering metalworkers, fey people: Szgany.
Travellers. Ah, but upon a time--an oh so recent time--there had been reasons aplenty for the nomadic existence of the Gypsies! And each and every one of those reasons monstrous, and all of them inhabiting the stone- and bone-built aeries of the Wamphyri! But the Wamphyri were no more.
It was strange; Lardis was not yet accustomed to it; the sun was setting for the fifteenth time and still he shivered, longing for the misted valleys, wooded slopes and forests of Sunside. Across the mountains it was still twilight and true dark many hours away. Plenty of time to find sanctuary in one or another of the many labyrinthine systems of caverns, there to wait out the night until ... But no, all of that was yesterday. Yet again Lardis must remind himself: Fool! The yoke is lifted. The Szgany are free!
Pausing where he made his way through the garden, Lardis looked back and up at the topmost crags. They were ashen now: charcoal dusted a pale blue-grey from the brightening stars, the colour of a wolf at twilight. Soon the hurtling moon would be up, half golden in the sun's reflected light, half blue as Icelands sheen. Then the wolves of Sunside would sing up from the dark forests and down from the pine-clad mountains, and those of Starside would hear them, yawn and stretch, emerge from their treeline dens and answer with songs of their own. For the moon was mistress to all the grey brothers.
Shivering (from the chill of twilight?) Lardis glanced all aboutin the dusk. At trog workers, leathery, shuffling, nocturnal, already up and about and seeing to their various duties; at the dim but reassuring yellow lights of Traveller dwellings huddled to the gently sloping walls of the saddle; at the misty silhouettes of greenhouses, the glitter of starlight in a shimmering geothermal pool, a creaking wind-vane atop its skeletal tower, turning in the breeze off Starside. And then he shivered again, and started out more urgently for The Dweller's house--
--Only to slow his pace in the very next moment. No need for haste. It was sundown, yes, but there was nothing hurtful here. Not anymore. So ... why should he feel that something was wrong?
Lardis trusted his instincts. His mother used to read palms, and his father had seen far things; all of the Lidescis had been fey. And tonight Lardis was jumpy without knowing the reason. Could this be why The Dweller had called him, because something was wrong? Well, he would know soon enough. But one thing Lardis already knew: that he had heard the call of Sunside, its rivers, forests and open spaces, and come what may his stay would not be long in The Dweller's garden.
Three acres in a row front to rear, the garden was--it had been--a marvellous place. It was a small valley in a gently hollowed mountain saddle. In this region Nature had flattened the barrier range somewhat; thus when the sun stood at its low southerly apex, it somehow managed to shine between even the highest peaks and down the long slopes, glancing off the crags to light here. From twilight to twilight, the aching light of Sunside struck through the pass in a great warm misty wedge.
A long, curved dry-stone wall defined the garden's forward boundary, beyond which the ground dipped sharply towards frowning cliffs, weathered shelves, more declivities, gentling foothills, and finally Starside's barren plains. Encompassed by the wall, the slopes of the saddle, and a narrow pass at the rear, were small fields or allotments, greenhouses, wind-vanes, sheds and storehouses, and clearwater ponds. A number of pools were astir with trout; others bubbled with thermal activity. Lush with vegetation, much of it crushed and ravaged in the battle but already sprung up and growing again, a surprising number of the garden's vegetable species would have been at home in The Dweller's own world. Hardy, improved or developed by TheDweller himself, they had grown accustomed to Starside's long nights and longer, occasionally dreary, days.
Repairs to the garden were nearing completion. Even stones slimed by exploding gas-beasts or evaporating Lords and lieutenants had been cleaned, or removed to the rim and avalanched down onto Starside. Vampire debris had gone into a crevasse, been drenched with The Dweller's fuels, burned up with hideous stenches. Eventually the last taint had been expunged. Broken dwellings had been mended, flattened greenhouses re-erected, The Dweller's generators repaired. Many of the garden's systems were fragile, requiring frequent attention; tending them was how The Dweller's people earned their keep, and the work served to instruct them in his ways.
His "people": trogs sent by the Wamphyri to work mischief against him, only to be converted to his cause; a few Travellers from tribes other than Lardis Lidesci's, grateful for The Dweller's sanctuary; and Starside's grey brotherhood, the wild ones of the mountains, who hunted under the moon. These latest of his volunteers were wolves, but it was as if he were their brother--which indeed he might well be. For The Dweller's vampire had been passed to him by a wolf ...
A vampire, aye--indeed, Wamphyri! For he carried a true egg. And if he were not The Dweller, with his own place here in the garden, what then? On Starside's boulder plains, east of the shining hemisphere portal to lands unknown, there stood the last great aerie of the Wamphyri. In its prime it had been the property of the Lord Dramal Doombody who, upon his demise, gifted it to his heir the Lady Karen. Might not The Dweller, himself Wamphyri, feel the aerie's alien lure, make it his own, take his machines there to light that monstrous stack as now they lit the garden?
As for the Lady Karen herself:
In the battle for the garden, Karen had sided with the defenders; moreover, she had brought first warning, and with her hybrid warriors had fought like a wildcat against the vampire Lords! Engaging Lesk the Glut, she'd opened his chest with her gauntlet, cut through the pipes of his heart, torn it smoking from his body while yet Lesk stamped and snorted! The Lady Karen: she had been something! But now ...
Some said she lived in her aerie still, though Harry Keogh (called Hell-lander, and sometimes Dwellersire) would doubtlessdispute it; if he were fit and well enough to dispute anything. Harry Keogh: The Dweller's father, his bloodsire.
After the battle, Harry had sojourned a while with Karen in her aerie; who but a magician out of the hell-lands would dare? She was after all Wamphyri! But upon his return to the garden he'd reported Karen's demise: how, in order to avoid some dark, unspoken fate, she had killed herself. Perhaps it was so, but mention her name to The Dweller and he would only smile. Except ... these days he wasn't much given to smiling.
Lardis arrived at his destination: a white stone bungalow with round windows and a chalet-style roof, situated close to a hot spring. An exterior staircase of yellow-varnished pine zigzagged up to a small balcony under projecting eaves, which fronted The Dweller's bedroom in the hollow of the red-tiled roof. After the battle in the garden, when the house suffered exploding gas-beast blasts, only its shell had been left standing. Trogs and Travellers, working together under the direction of The Dwellers, had soon put it back to rights. Now it seemed The Dweller no longer took pride in it. Nor in any of his previous works.
The Dweller waited in his doorway. He wore his golden mask, of course, and a voluminous yellow robe which covered his entire body down to his feet. Lardis paused before him, raised a clenched fist and uttered a customary greeting: "Tear down the mountains!" Customary, habitual, indeed instinctive, the ancient Szgany imprecation no longer had meaning. In return The Dweller nodded, took Lardis's elbow and escorted him to the long room which was his study. A circular window in an end wall looked out over Starside to the distant, shimmering horizon and the auroras of the far north. A second window in the opposing wall viewed the garden, the narrowing funnel of the saddle, the gaunt crags rising on both sides and merging into peaks. In the cleft of the pass the sky was a banded blue, where the sapphire in the well of the V shaded upwards into indigo to accommodate the first glitter of Sunside's stars.
Seated on simple stools in soft yellow electric lamplight, the two men faced each other across a small pine table. Despite the fact that Lardis was The Dweller's senior by a good six or seven years, and a leader in his own right, he was ill at ease in the other's presence. He had felt this way, indeed increasingly so, almost from first arrival here. His discomfort might have its source in The Dweller's alien origins--the fact that he was abeing from an unknown world, commanding awesome weapons and powers--but that was only part of it. Rather Lardis sensed in him something of the ancient powers of this world (or more properly, of Starside), and for the most part his disquiet lay in knowing what stared back at him through the orbits of The Dweller's expressionless golden mask--scarlet Wamphyri eyes! Well, no secret there. For much to his credit The Dweller had disclosed all: the fact that he was the recipient of a vampire egg--from the bite of a wolf!
Lardis, however, suspected that there was even more than this to his persistent disquiet. Gazing somewhat obliquely on his host, he felt that The Dweller's unseen eyes saw more than was their right, that they might even peer into a man's soul. Lardis's soul, like his conscience, was crystal clear, but his thoughts were never less than searching. He didn't much like the idea that perhaps The Dweller was also a thought-thief, a mentalist. Certainly the majority of the Old Wamphyri had had the power, in one degree or another.
Finally The Dweller spoke. "You are silent." His voice was young, yet old with knowledge, with strangeness. It had a rough edge, a rasp of physical pain. Beneath his robe, The Dweller's burns were not yet healed. Not entirely.
Lardis shrugged awkwardly, felt lost for an answer. "You sent for me. I came to discover your needs."
"My needs?" The Dweller answered Lardis's shrug with one of his own. "I myself don't know what they are! But for the moment they are the needs of my people. Later ... we shall see."
Lardis waited, and eventually:
"I fear there are changes in the offing," said The Dweller, sighing. "There are several subjects to discuss. My mother, my father, myself. Yourself, and your people. The garden, and its future. If it has one."
Still Lardis waited.
"The garden served a purpose, in its time," The Dweller continued. "It was a home, a refuge, even a fortress against the Wamphyri. Against their arrogance, anyway: their 'invincibility.' Well, they were not invincible. Nor am I. Nothing is. Also, the garden proved a point: that while a fixed, permanent home may be vulnerable, still it may be defended, and successfully. One of several things which made the Wamphyri strong was theirterritoriality. They would not suffer rivals within their spheres. Once they laid claim to a place--or to anything, for that matter--it was theirs forever, or as long as they could hold it. This was no weird idiosyncrasy; most creatures, once they have found their place, will not move lightly aside. And men are much the same. Which is how and why we held the garden and brought the Wamphyri down." He paused.
"In my father's country," The Dweller continued in a while, "in his world, they have this saying: 'An Englishman's home is his castle.' It may be translated as a warning: 'Make no threat against me on my own land, for here I am strong. Here, I am the master!" Again The Dweller paused, then asked, "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Lardis wasn't sure he did understand, but certainly he was worried. The Dweller's mode of expression sounded like nothing so much as a Wamphyri word game! And suddenly Lardis wondered: In the battle for the garden, was it his purpose to simply defend himself against the Wamphyri ... or to usurp them? If the latter, what did that make Lardis Lidesci and his people? Free men ... or thralls? Now that The Dweller alone held sway on Starside, how would he use his power?
Finally Lardis found his voice. "Are these things applicable to me?"
"To you and yours, yes," The Dweller replied. "The Szgany fought for me and my garden. What they paid in blood has been returned in skill and knowledge; and in future, should the need arise, your people will know how to defend themselves. But for now ... what is there for you on Starside? What was there ever, but a threat? Well, the threat is no more. So go back to Sunside, quit your travelling, build settlements and live in peace--for as long as you may. You've earned yourselves a breathing space, time of your own in which to grow strong. Only remember: the vampire swamps are still there. If ever the Wamphyri should return, whether bred in the swamps or ... other places, next time be ready for them."
Lardis had been holding his breath. He let it out in a sigh which was almost a gasp. For while still puzzled, he was also relieved. He need no longer feel guilty about his intentions; his mind had been made up to leave, which coincided with The Dweller's advice. As for certain other fears in respect of The Dweller's purpose, he saw now that they had been unworthy.
"Before the next sunup," he finally replied, "I'll take my people out of here. Until then, if you'll help us, we'll learn all we can from you. As for fighting the Wamphyri, in that we are of one mind. I have always fought them. And if they return I'll fight them again."
Under the rim of The Dweller's mask where it enclosed his cheekbones and housed his nose in a prow, his lips twitched into a smile. He nodded and said, "Yes, I know--but in the past you have fought with muscle, blood, bone. The next time will be with 'science.' Ah, you think you don't know the word, but you do! You've seen it at work, here, all about you! In your permanent settlements, the towns you'll build, there will be time for it. Time for all manner of things, now that your endless trekking is at an end! 'Science,' yes: it means to learn and to understand ... everything! What? And is everything too much for you? Well, perhaps it is. But you Szgany are a crafty people; metalworkers, weapon-makers, skills left over from a time before the Wamphyri. Just a little learning, even a little science ... Why, there's nothing in this garden you couldn't make! Nothing of my technology which you can't discover and duplicate for yourselves, given time."
Lardis felt a great excitement, but at the same time he was frowning again. For now he detected something else in The Dweller's tone, words between his words. There was a sense of--finality?--in the things he said. But if the Szgany were at a beginning, who then was at an end? Or ... who suspected that his end was upon him?
"Other matters," The Dweller painfully rasped, his urgency cutting into the Gypsy's thoughts; so that again Lardis wondered, Mentalist? Thought-thief? While out loud he said:
"You, yourself, Dweller?"
The Dweller gave a smart start, and now it was his turn to wonder. The Gypsy was shrewd. Had Lardis been anticipating his host or simply answering some question of his own? Had he seen the pain in The Dweller's scorched face, heard it in his voice? Had he perhaps guessed that The Dweller's sun-poisoned flesh was dying? Well, possibly, but even a shrewd man could scarcely guess the whole truth, the final truth--that even now The Dweller's vampire was reshaping what untainted flesh remained. But into what?
Lardis nodded. "If we Travelers--we Szgany, since it appears we'll journey no more--if we leave the garden, then what of you, your trogs, your people? What of those Travellers who were here before me and mine? What of your mother ... aye, and your father? What of Harry Hell-lander? This is the second sundown he's tossed and babbled in his strange fever. Who knows how long before he'll recover? Last but not least, what of the garden?"
The Dweller nodded. "We'll deal with all of these things in their turn. My mother ... is failing. I have watched her grow old while in fact she's still young. In the world where she was born, women of her age are still in their prime, but that was never her destiny." Now his rasping voice turned a little sour. "From the day she met my father the shape of her life was preordained, with never a chance that it might run a straight course. She wasn't weak, but neither was she strong ... enough. She was ordinary, and Harry is--he was--extraordinary. And yet her life has not been miserable; indeed she has been happy, here in the garden. The nature of her affliction is that it shuts out all manner of horrid things from her mind, until almost everything has been shut out. And now she dwells alone, within."
"Not alone, Dweller!" Lardis protested.
The Dweller held up a slender hand. "I know, I know: my people look after her well, and are rewarded with her smiles. But such responses are automatic; she merely obeys her instincts; she is mainly alone--but not for long. Soon she'll join that throng who went before, going on from this place like a vine growing over the wall. Well, and it's true there are worlds beyond and I mustn't be greedy. So let it be: let her simple smile brighten some other's garden a while. Until then I'll stay with her, along with a few others of my people who won't leave her ..." He paused a moment. And in a little while:
"As for you and your people, Lardis: you'll prosper on Sunside, I'm sure. And myself? Well, I looked after myself, my mother, the garden, long before the first of you Szgany joined me here; and now ... I have friends other than trogs and Travellers. What's more, I no longer have any enemies." He stood up, seeming to flow to his feet in the weird way of the Wamphyri, and paced the floor to the window that looked out on the garden. Lardis followed him, watching as he opened thewindow, leaned out a little way, and inclined his head upwards to the misted mountain peaks. The ghost of a howl came ululating down, thin and eery, echoing in flooding moonlight. And behind his golden mask The Dweller smiled.
"No harm will come to me or mine," he eventually continued, when the howling stopped. "Shortly, even my most faithful will leave me; I shall ask them to leave, by which time they'll be ready."
"But ... why do you isolate yourself?" Lardis was at pains to understand his motives. "Will you stay on here, alone?"
"Stay here? Ah, no. But I shall return from time to time, to talk to her, in my way ..."
"To your mother? When she is--"
"When she's dead, yes."
For a moment Lardis believed he saw red fires reflected on the rims of the eye sockets in the golden mask, and he was hard put to contain a sudden shudder. Wamphyri, The Dweller, aye--and much more than that. For like his father before him he had ... ah, powers!
The Dweller looked at Lardis, clasped his broad shoulders in pale thin hands, and thought: He's brave, this man. Brave and loyal. He should fear me, even run from me, but he stands his ground. Whatever comes to pass--however it shall be--I'll not hurt him or his. Never!
It was as if Lardis heard him. All of the fear went out of him; a great deal of fear which, until the moment it left him, he'd scarcely realized was there at all. At least he'd never admitted it, not even to himself. Finally he straightened up and nodded. "Then it seems we have no more to talk about," he said. "Ah--except your father, of course."
The Dweller's answering nod was thoughtful, deliberate. "How goes it with him?"
Now Lardis gave a grunt and offered a frustrated shrug. "We care for him, feed him, watch over him in his fever," he answered. "Everything as you instructed--but we've no knowledge of his sickness. You say that both of you were burned by your own weapons, those brilliant beams of sunlight with which you destroyed the Wamphyri. Well, and your burns were plainly visible, Dweller, their effect immediate--it's a miracle you survived! But Harry Hell-lander was not burned, not that I ever saw."
The Dweller had his answer ready. "I was burned on the outside," he said. "My flesh was physically scorched by the sun's fire. But my father's sickness is in his blood, a slow poison, like silver or kneblasch to the Wamphyri. It causes this fever in him. But when the fever has burned itself out, he will be cured. Then I'll take him back to his own place. And then at last I'll be alone here."
"And that's what you want?"
"It's how it has to be." The Dweller's voice was now a low growl. He began to turn away--then swiftly turned back, face to face with the Gypsy. And urgently, perhaps pleadingly, he said: "Lardis, listen. I am Wamphyri! When I fought for this place, the fighting roused something up in me, in my blood. You trust me, I know. Likewise your people, and mine. But I don't know how long I may trust myself! Now do you understand?"
Lardis believed he did, and a little of his escaped fear crept back in. "But how ... how will you survive?" Unintentionally, he placed some small emphasis on the word will.
Before the other could answer, an echoing chorus of howls floated down out of the hills. With long, loping strides, The Dweller took himself back to the window, again inclining his head to the heights. And to Lardis he said, "How do they survive, the grey brotherhood?"
"They are hunters," the Gypsy answered, quietly. "And will you also ... hunt?"
"I know what you are thinking," The Dweller said. "And I don't blame you. Your times have been hard. The Wamphyri have made them so. But this I vow: I shall never hunt men."
Lardis shivered again, but he believed The Dweller's words. "You are ... a changeling creature," he said. "I can't pretend to understand you."
"A changeling, it's true," The Dweller agreed. "I had two fathers, only one of which was a man! My human flesh is dying now, but I can feel my vampire at work in me. He remembers his former host, and has other clay to mold."
There was that in his voice ... Lardis was not afraid ... but there was weirdness in the air ... the moon had turned the garden yellow, with black mountains beyond, split by the deep blue V of the pass. "I should be going," the Gypsy said, his normal rumble of a voice little more than a whisper.
"See my hands," said The Dweller, "how thin they are, likepaws?" He stretched out his arms, until his hands and wrists stood free of the wide cuffs. "These I shall retain, as best I can--the hands of a man--to remind me of what I was." And cocking his head curiously on one side, he glanced at Lardis. "Also that you and your people shall know me, when I am ... other than I am now."
Lardis looked; The Dweller's hands were pale and slim as a girl's; but his wrists and forearms, what could be seen of them, were grey-furred! Backing towards the door, the Gypsy hissed, "You, Dweller? A grey one?"
"When they call down from the peaks under the moon like that," the other sighed, "ah!--I hear them! And I know they call for me." He opened the door for Lardis, and the Gypsy tremblingly stepped out into the night.
"I ... I knew they were your friends, of course," he told The Dweller, where now that one stood framed in the doorway. "But--"
"My friends?" Again that quick tilt of The Dweller's head; his eyes, gleaming now in the eye-holes of his mask, no longer red but feral in moonlight. "That and more than that. My kin!"
And as he turned more fully into the garden: "Lardis," The Dweller called after him. "Remember--we shall not hunt you. Be sure that you never hunt me or mine ..."
Harry Keogh tossed and turned in tortured dreams. He had been tortured, a little. What his son, The Dweller, had done to him could not have been accomplished by any other means: the Necroscope's metaphysical mind had been entered like a house in the night, its innermost vaults penetrated, its owner deprived of his treasures. The intruder had been none other than Harry Jr. himself, called The Dweller, soon to be Harry Wolfson. Except he had stolen nothing, merely changed the combination on certain locks and booby-trapped certain passageways. During the course of work such as this, inevitably there had been some "structural" damage which, while he had kept it to a minimum, was the real cause of his father's "fever." It was not so much that Harry Keogh's blood was poisoned, rather that his mentality had been depleted.
Harry dreamed of the forbidden Mobius Continuum. Trapped in its flux, he drifted useless as a ship with neither sail nor rudder, a waterlogged hulk rocked and slowly twirled by mathematicaltides and algebraic whirlpools, through straits of Pure Number where he was now innumerate. And in the primal darkness of that place beyond or between such places as men are allowed to know, he was aware of a thousand locked doors, all of them drifting with him, around him, even through him, each one of them a mystery to him, closed to him forever. For he was no longer empowered to conjure the Mobius equations which were their keys.
They were doors, yes, to other places, even other times, but without their keys the immensity of the Möbius Continuum might as well be the narrow confines of a dungeon ... or the innermost chamber of some sunken Pharaonic tomb, lost forever in the Valley of the Kings.
Such imaginative associations were cyclic and mutative as the stuff of dreams has ever been. Ideas evoked fresh visions as the focus of Harry's dream now shaped itself to this Egyptian motif. So that in the next moment he wondered: Doors? But if these myriad eerily drifting shapes are doors, then why do they look so much like sarcophagi?
Sarcophagi, coffins, caskets: now they were made of glass, allowing him to see into them. And within, all of those teeming dead thousands, the Great Majority, could see out! They could see Harry drifting helplessly by, and soon commenced to shout at him. He saw their mouths working, death's-head jaws grimacing and snapping, the leather of mummied faces cracking where unnatural stress was applied to otherwise inanimate, exanimate tissues. They rapped on their glass lids with ivory knuckles, ogled him through empty sockets, waved X-ray hands as he went floating by.
His countless dead friends: they talked to him as of old, questioned him, begged news, items of information, this, that or the other favour. But the ex-Necroscope couldn't hear them and in any case daren't listen, and he knew that he must never ever again try to answer them. Oh, Harry wasn't afraid of the dead and never had been, but he feared, indeed dreaded, their attempted communication with him! For his deadspeak talent had been forbidden to him, even as the most basic numbers were now unknowable. Worse, there would be a penalty to pay: such agony as might easily win him a box of his own!
He could only offer them a negative shake of his head (and even then believed he took a risk) as he bobbed heavily along where once he'd skimmed, no longer master but captive of the MöbiusContinuum. I shouldn't even be here, he told himself. How did I get in here? How will I get out?
As if some One had answered, he saw that the coffins were doors again, one of which opened directly in his path. Offering no resistance (he had none to offer), he was drawn through into another place, another time. Drawn into time itself, but time in reverse! And so Harry began to fall into his own past.
Gathering speed, he was drawn backwards in time like a thread rewinding itself onto its bobbin. Indeed, he watched his own blue life-thread--nothing less than the course and continuity of his fourth-dimensional existence from birth to the grave--streaming back into him as he backtracked years already lived. And the thought occurred: I am going back to my beginnings. I will have it all to live--all to do, all to suffer--all over again!
That was too much. It was the difference between a dream and a nightmare. And Harry Keogh woke up--
--Drenched in his own sweat, and gasping: "No!"
"Don't!" she told him at once, her voice almost as startled and frightened as his own, but less hoarse. "You're hurting me."
"Brenda!" Harry croaked, almost sobbed her name, while at the same time doubting that it was her name, but hoping anyway. Praying that it had all been a dream--and not just this part but all of it, everything--and a moment later knowing that it had not. No, for her fierce breasts, where now on impulse she suddenly hugged his face against them, weren't Brenda's; she didn't smell like Brenda; and anyway he remembered now that the Brenda he'd called out to had been many long years and an entirely different world ago.
"Brenda?" she repeated, her accent husky, Szgany, as he relaxed his grip on her arms and flopped back into his damp bed. "Were you dreaming, Harry Dwellersire?" She leaned over him, supported his head with a cool hand, stroked his brow.
"Dreaming?" He looked up at her, tried to focus on her. It wasn't easy; he felt weak as a kitten, drained. And that last word--coupled with what she'd called him, Dwellersire--was a trigger which released more memories. No, not drained, merely depleted. Robbed. By his own son, The Dweller. And none of it had been a dream, or only the last part. And even that had been so close to reality as to make no difference.
He turned his head, looked around the small, stone-built,whitewashed, electric-lamplit room. A crude dwelling, little more than a cave. But luxury to some. Certainly to Travellers, who hadn't known what a permanent home was before The Dweller and his garden. And Harry's voice turned as sour as the fur lining his clammy mouth as he mumbled, "Starside?"
She nodded. "Yes, Starside, the garden. And your fever has broken." She smiled at him. "You're going to be well again."
"My ... fever?" His eyes went back to her face. It looked very lovely in the soft, uneven yellow flow of the lamplight; most of the electricity from The Dweller's generators went to the greenhouses. "Yes, my 'fever,'" Harry said again, nodding wryly. No fever, he knew. Just his shattered mind, gradually pulling its bits together again. "How long have I been lying here?"
"This is the second sundown," she told him. She withdrew her hand from under his head, replaced it with a bundled fur for a pillow. Then she stood up from her stool and said, "I'll prepare soup for you. After you have eaten, The Dweller will want to know that--"
"No!" he cut her short, his anxiety very tangible. "Not ... yet, a while. He doesn't need to know yet. I want a little time to myself, to get my thoughts in order."
And she wondered: Is he afraid of his own son? Then perhaps we all should be.
Harry looked at her standing there, a frown on her attractive if careworn face. She was small, amply proportioned, with dark eyes slightly aslant, a small nose for a Gypsy, and hair glossy black where it fell to her shoulders. Passionate as all her race--dressed in soft, supple leather--even motionless there was something animal, sinuous, sensual about her.
Still frowning, she crossed to a fireplace built into the virgin rock of the innermost wall and hung a prepared pot from a tripod. Prodding the fire's embers to glowing life, and aware that Harry's eyes followed her every movement, she finally told him, "But The Dweller's instructions were very clear: Lardis's people are to tend your needs as best possible until such time as you recover, upon which--and immediately--he is to be informed."
"My needs are that I'm not to be disturbed." Harry's wits were a little sharper now. "I'm not to be excited. You mustn't ... mustn't argue with me." All of this thinking, all of these words, were a big effort. Wearied, he lay back andwondered why he felt only half here. No, he knew why: it was because he was only half here. He had lost, been deprived of, several of his senses--like losing touch and taste. Which left him feeling numb, and life flavourless.
The Gypsy woman smiled and slowly nodded, as if the sharpness of Harry's words had confirmed some unspoken thing. "You are wilful." She said what was on her mind. "All of you hell-landers are alike, wild and wilful. Zekintha, called Zek, and Jazz Simmons: they were the same. If only they had stayed here. Their hot blood--their children--would be welcome among the Travellers. We would be the stronger for it." It was a Szgany compliment.
"Szgany blood is hot enough," Harry answered, also a compliment. "So ... will you report my awakening? What's your name, anyway?"
"I am Nana Kiklu," she answered, coming back to sit beside him as before. "And no, I will not report your awakening. Not for a little while."
"Not until morning? Sunup?"
She cocked her head on one side. "That's a long time. We're only halfway into the night. There will be others looking after you before sunup, who will surely see that you are recovered."
"Not if I'm asleep," Harry answered.
"Perhaps not ..." But now she could see how important this was to him, and so made up her mind. "Mine is the last shift," she said, thoughtfully. "If your recovery is still undiscovered when I return, then it can wait till daylight."
Harry held back a sigh of relief, settled down more easily into his bed. He did actually need the time, didn't want to be transported back to his own world while he was still in ... in a state of shock? And so, "Fair enough," he said. And in open admiration: "Your man is fortunate, Nana Kiklu. At one and the same time, his woman is accommodating and charming."
"I thank you," she answered at once, "but as for my man--alas, no." And now a certain longing, an emptiness, crept into her voice, and a sadness onto her face. For like Harry, Nana, too, had been deprived. "My man was ... less than fortunate," she explained. "In the battle for the garden, the Lord Belath's gauntlet, dipped in poison, sliced Hzak's shoulder to the bone. I prayed he would survive. He did survive--for six sunups."
Now Harry Keogh sighed, more a groan than a sigh proper, and turned his face away; but not before she saw the sympathy living in it, and the regret. The time had been--but now was gone--when he might have contacted Hzak Kiklu to comfort him, tell him that the Wamphyri were no more. But ex-Necroscope, the dead were beyond Harry now.
"All things pass," she said, bravely. "Now--can you sit up? I have soup for you, with chunks of soft meat. Your blood has grown thin as water through all the hours you've lain here. This will thicken it up." She brought soup and bread. Harry was suddenly very tired, but he was hungry too. While he ate, Nana Kiklu looked on in silent approval. She approved of him wolfing the food she'd prepared, and she approved ... of him.
Under his bedclothes lay the body of a hunter, a fighting man; hard-muscled as Hzak's had been, yet pale and different. Well, of course he was different, for he came out of the hell-lands of legend! But ... not that different. She'd washed him tip to toe and so knew he wasn't that different. But handsome, aye! Tall, and lean in the hip. Strong too, before his sickbed, and would be again. Nana had no concept of the word "athlete," but she could picture Harry chasing a wild pig and casting his spear: the ripple of his muscles, the narrowing of his strange honey-brown eyes. She could picture him doing ... many things.
As for the waving grey streaks in the russet of his hair: it seemed unlikely that age could have put them there. Harry Dwellersire was--what, ageless? When she'd listened to him rambling in his fever, he had sounded like nothing so much as an innocent boy; for a fact his body seemed older than his mind! Nana couldn't know it, but in that last thought she had struck upon the absolute truth.
So, why was he greying? Did it result from great learning, the wisdom that came from it, the weight of mighty knowledge? But knowledge of what strange things? In her reasoning, too, she came closer to the truth than she knew. But as things were she could only offer a small, unself-conscious shrug which went unnoticed. Why strive to understand anything? He was after all a hell-lander. It was probably as well that she neither knew nor understood.
Harry was asleep almost before the last spoonful of soup was down, and a half hour later Nana Kiklu handed over her duties toanother, much older woman. Good as her word, she said nothing about their charge's partial recovery ...
Harry woke up at the end of the six-hour shift, saw the old Gypsy woman nodding on her stool, closed his eyes and moaned until she started awake. Then he kicked his limbs, but feebly, convincing her that he was feverish still. When he calmed down she spooned soup into him, crooned to him until he slept again. Six hours later he employed the same subterfuge with a third Szgany woman, but this time there could be no hiding his rapid improvement. He was only saved by the prompt arrival of Nana Kiklu.
"He looks well," his unknown Gypsy nurse told Nana as she came in from Starside's long night, shrugging herself out of a heavy coat of fur. "His fever is in abeyance; all the clamminess has gone out of him; he took enough soup for two men! I think he'll wake soon. We should tell The Dweller."
And feigning sleep, Harry heard Nana's answer.
"Let's not be too hasty. The Dweller is resting. Sunup is five hours away and the dawn will be time enough. Don't worry, I will see to it."
"As you will," the other answered, and left.
Harry had done most of his thinking in his sleep, which in the main had been restful; also in his dreams, which were less so. He was aware that his son would soon take him out of this world into his own and leave him there, and that he would be a free man again. But only a man, no more Necroscope, and no way round it. He wasn't reconciled to it but had no choice. For the time being, however, his frustration seemed all burned out of him; except ... he supposed it must return. Yes, as long as there were locked rooms in the mansion of his mind--while he remembered the Möbius Continuum, and the myriad dead friends who were lost to him now--it would always return.
But looking at Nana Kiklu where she came to stand over him, looking at her through three-quarters-shuttered eyes, which yet feigned sleep, he found himself remembering other, more mundane things. Earthly, even earthy things; yet not of the earth, and certainly not of the grave. For Nana Kiklu was far from that. On the contrary, she was full of life. And he remembered how her breasts had felt against his face when she'd hugged him.
And then he knew why he continued to feign sleep: so that he could watch her watching him. He wanted to consider her expression, and see if he could sense that in her which he felt in himself. It had been a long, long time since he'd known a woman.
When Nana sat beside him he merged into her shadow, felt drawn to her. The top buttons of her soft leather blouse were open; leaning over him to straighten his pillow, the curves of her elastic breasts were partly exposed. Only lift his hands a little and he could test their weight. It was a struggle not to. And to control his breathing.
She cocked her head a little on one side, half shuttered her own eyes, frowned at him. But her eyes, like her thoughts, were very deep. She had noticed the rise and fall of his chest: a trifle ... irregular? Both Harry and the Gypsy, each wondered what were the other's thoughts.
In the same moment that he felt he must touch her, finally she moved, got up, went to the door--and barred it. And Harry knew, in the way people do, what was going to happen; also that he wanted it to happen.
She came back, her Gypsy hips swaying hypnotically, and sat down again. But as she adjusted his blanket, so her hand crept beneath it onto his naked thigh. Harry stopped breathing, stiffened with the shock of her touch, and her suspicions were at once confirmed. Her laugh was low and husky. "I thought your fever had cooled a little. But look, here you are hot as ever! Hot--and hard ..."
Already erect, his manhood grew more yet into her tightening, deliciously mobile fist, to hammer like a heart against her palm. Until he groaned, "No! Wait! Nana, don't waste me!" His trembling hands found the buttons of her blouse and her breasts tumbled free. While he fondled and kissed their softness, teasing her brown nipples to life, she struggled to be rid of her clothes and into bed with him.
"Fill me, Harry Dwellersire," she moaned, "for we've both been empty and aching for far too long. I'm not sure why you ache, but this may be part of the cure."
He made no answer, found the sucking gate to her sex and drove into it. In the next moment, for a moment, he held himself back, then panted: "I can't--daren't--damn it, I'll get you pregnant!"
"No," she shook her head, rolled over on top and came downslow and heavy on him, trapping his flesh deep in her lava core and his face in the silky curtain of her hair. And slowly working her body, with her breasts lolling in his face, she gasped, "I'm ... barren." It was a lie; Hzak's seed had been at fault, she knew. But as for Nana, she wanted a child--so why not Harry's?
Harry felt himself swelling, shook his head wildly. "Nana, I can't hold it!"
"Don't try," she told him, and instantly felt him jerking, geysering into her. His long bursts seemed unending, lubrication for the hot engine of her womanhood.
"Too quick," he moaned, angry with himself. "Too damn quick!"
"Yes," she murmured, smothering him in her breasts, her kisses. "Too quick. But that one was for you. This one will be for me, and it will be slower."
It was. And so was the next ...
In the grey twilight, just before sunup, Nana crept from Harry's bed and dressed, went to The Dweller and told him that his father's fever had broken. When she left her lover of a few brief hours, he was sleeping a dreamless, exhausted sleep, and somehow she knew it was the last she would see of him.
But warm inside, she also knew it was not the last of his works.