Harry and Karen - The Threat of the Icelands

Karen glided her flyer to earth at the north-facing front of the garden, just beyond the low wall there, where the ground sloped steeply away towards Starside. It was a good relaunch site and well known to her, for this was where she'd blinded the crazed Lesk the Glut, cut out his heart, and given his grotesque body to the garden's defenders for burning.

Leaving The Dweller's old house and making his way towards her through the dispersing mist, the Necroscope sent a dazed thought ahead of him: Is it really you, Karen, or am I seeing and hearing things? I mean, how can this be real? I saw you dead and broken on the scree where you'd thrown yourself down from the roof of your aerie.

Hah! she answered. And without malice: But that was when you were seeing things, Harry Keogh! She had stepped through a break in the wall and stood poised there, waiting for him, silhouetted against wall and flyer both. The latter, a nightmare dragon thing but harmless for all its prehistoric design, nodded, salivated, and blinked huge, owlish eyes. It swayed its flat, spatulate head this way and that; its damp, gleaming manta wings were of fine, flexible alveolate bone thinly sheathed in metamorphic flesh; worm legs or thrusters bunched beneath the doughy bulge of its body.

Harry looked at it and wondered why he felt no horror and very little pity. For he knew that the thing had been fashioned from the flesh of trogs or Travellers. Perhaps there was no more horror left in him. Or perhaps there was no more human. Except, drawing closer to Karen, he knew that some of his emotions at least were still human.

She was breathtaking. In the world beyond the sphere Gate - the world of men, now an entire universe away - her like had been quite unknown. Even her crimson eyes seemed beautiful... now. Harry was awed by her beauty, struck by it no less than when he'd first seen her, that time when she came here to join the garden's defenders in defiance of the Wamphyri. She had enthralled him then and did so again now. He couldn't take his eyes off her.

He drank her in:

From the burnished copper of her hair, down through every gorgeous curve of her body (which, whether half-hidden or half-exposed, was always given emphasis by her sheath of soft white leather), to the pale leather sandals on her feet, open at the toes to show her toenails painted gold, she was ravishing. Over her shoulders she wore a cloak of black fur, and about her waist a wide black belt whose grey-metal buckle was shaped into a snarling wolf's head. The sigil's significance was lost in the past; Dramal Doombody's ancestors had passed it down to him, and he in his turn had passed it to Karen. And not only his crest, but Dramal had given Karen his egg, too.

Riveted for long moments by her weirdness, her unearthly beauty and contrasting colours, Harry had paused; now he moved closer. Face to face, Karen was even more beautiful, more desirable. Countering his approach - shifting her body to mirror his every move -she displayed the sinuous motion of a Gypsy dancer which he remembered so well. But of course, for upon a time she'd been a Traveller. Why, only listen and he might hear the chime and jingle of her movements... yes, even when there was none to hear!

He heard these things now, and then her telepathic voice, chiming in his mind: You very nearly killed me once, Harry. And I should warn you: my first reason for coming here was to return the favour! She brought forward her right hand, until now hidden behind her back. Her battle gauntlet was in position; when she flexed her hand, a torturer's delight of blades, hooks and small scythes gleamed silver in the starlight.

Harry conjured a Möbius door on his immediate right and fixed it there. Invisible, it was the perfect bolthole if such were needed. Let Karen take a swing at him, he'd merely feint right and disappear. But these were thoughts he must keep to himself, while out loud: 'Are you saying you're here to kill me?'

To which, in a voice that trembled at the very edge of her control, she answered in kind: 'And are you saying you don't deserve it?'

Still keeping his own mind guarded, Harry looked into hers and saw the furious passions brewing there, saw anger bordering on rage, but nothing of hatred. Also, and very importantly, he saw the Lady Karen's loneliness. They were two of a kind now. 'I didn't understand what it was like to be...'he began, and paused; and tried again: 'I mean, I thought I was helping you, curing you, as of some vile disease. But I admit it, I did it for my son as much as for you. For if I could cure you...'

'Cure!' She spat the word out. 'Why don't you try curing yourself! There is no cure, Necroscope! Surely you must know that by now?'

He nodded, took a chance and inched closer yet. And: 'Yes, I do know,' he answered. 'But in a way I did cure you. You had a vampire in you, the sort the Wamphyri called a "mother". If you had spawned so many vampires, in the end it must diminish you, kill you. Am I right?'

'We'll never know, will we?' she growled.

Harry stood directly before her, less than a pace away, well within the arc of her gauntlet. 'So you came to kill me.' He nodded. 'But surely you can see I've suffered my own change? And surely you know in your heart that I was never your enemy, Karen? I was merely innocent. In my way.'

She stared hard at him for a moment, narrowed her eyes a little, then nodded and smiled. But it was more a sneer than a smile proper. 'I've found you out!' she said. 'I sense your door, Harry! You took me there once, remember? You carried me from the garden to my aerie, all in a moment. And now there's another door right here beside you. Would you dare stand so close without it? If so, then do it. Show me how "innocent" you are.'

He shook his head. 'That was then,' he said. 'As for now: whatever I might wish to be, I can only be Wamphyri! Precious little of innocence in me now... about as much as there is in you? Yes, the thing within advised me to conjure a door, for my protection. Or for its protection? But the man which I still am tells me I don't need this safeguard, that it makes anything I might say to you - the things I want to say to you - a mockery. And while I live, the man in me has the upper hand. So be it!'

He threw caution to the wind, collapsed the Möbius door and opened his mind wide to her. In a few moments she read or scanned all that was written there, for he kept nothing hidden. But in telepathy, to read is often to feel, and most of all she felt his pain: as great and greater than her own. And his loss - all of his losses - whose total was so much more. And she saw how lonely and empty he was, which brought her own loneliness and emptiness into proper perspective.

But... she was a woman and remembered certain things. As his right hand closed in the curve of her waist at first gently, then possessively, so she bent her elbow at his side until her open gauntlet leaned loosely against his back and upper-left arm. And she said, 'Do you recall the time I told you how I'd lusted after you? In how many ways I lusted after you? Like a woman, perhaps - but certainly like a vampire! And do you remember when you trapped me in my room, how I tried to lure you? I went naked, writhing, panting, thrusting at you - and you ignored me. It was as if your flesh was iron and your blood ice.'

'No,' he husked in her ear, drinking in the natural musk of her body, drawing her to him and bending down his head to her. 'My body was flesh and my blood was fire. But I had set myself a course and must run it. Now... it's run.'

She felt his need swelling to match, to intensify, her own - so much need - and was aware of his heartbeat like a hammer against her breast. 'You... you're a fool, Harry Keogh!' she whispered, as he crushed her even tighter. And every nerve of her body thrilled as Wamphyri instinct demanded that she scoop her gauntlet into the flesh and bone of his back and spoon it out, then reach inside and slice his heart to a crimson-pumping geyser. Thrilled, yes, and thrilled again - in astonishment - when she relaxed her hand so that the weapon fell from her fluttering fingers, fell loose to the ground!

'Even as great a fool as I am,' she moaned then, sinking red-painted razor-sharp nails through cloth and skin and shivering flesh into his back and neck, as he in turn wrenched her sheath dress apart, and clutched her bruisingly wherever his hands would reach, and bit her face and mouth until the blood flowed. 'Which is to say,' she panted, when finally they held each other burning at bay, 'a very great fool indeed!'

They flew to her aerie.

Mounted behind her in the ornate saddle at the base of the flyer's neck where its manta wings sprouted, Harry must cling to Karen or risk falling - in which case he would conjure a door and fall through it into the Möbius Continuum. But he would not fall while he fondled her straining breasts, whose nipples were nuggets under her ruined sheath. And he would not fall while his manhood strained in the crevice of her delicious behind, surging there as if to lift her out of her seat.

'Wait!' she had told him back there in the garden, at the wall, where with his new-found Wamphyri passions he would have taken her immediately and ploughed her like a field of yielding flesh. And: 'Wait!' she'd repeated twice during the flight, when he'd moaned louder than the wind in her ear and bitten the back of her neck, and she had felt his metamorphic flesh flowing to enfold her while his hands enlarged and flattened as if to touch all of her at once.

And yet again, 'Wait! Oh, wait! she had pleaded with him, when the flyer set them down in a launching-landing bay some levels lower than her topmost apartments, and she had almost to flee before his lust across the cartilage causeways and up stairways of fretted bone to her rooms. But at last he caught her in her bedroom and knew that the waiting was over, for both of them.

Harry had made love so very recently, yet now it was all forgotten and perhaps not surprisingly. For if space and time are so linked as to be inextricable (to any ordinary man), just how long ago was it since he had known Penny? A dimension ago? An entire universe? And as a universe is huge almost to infinity, how then the time-gap between universes? Time is relative, as the Necroscope knew only too well. But in any case, that earlier phase now seemed fuzzy as a dream, while 'now' was the only reality. Penny had been a mirage, a dream-creature, a waif light as thistledown, enthralled and drawn into his dream with him, and at last destroyed by it. But Karen was... Woman. She was substantial, compelling, consuming; a magnet, with gravity of her own great as a small planet, so that she held him like a moon to light her flesh and lust after it. For Harry she was the embodiment of all earthly (unearthly?) desire; greater than a mere planet, she was his own personal black hole, which might suck him in in his entirety. Indeed, Karen was all of this and more. Karen was Wamphyri!

Upon her bed they twined and tangled, panted, grunted and groaned, and in all truth Harry no longer knew what was real and what was fantasy. He had not previously explored his metamorphism; he didn't know the extent of fleshly flexibility; he was 'innocent' in respect of his own passion's potential. And Karen, too, innocent. Or very nearly so.

'You have kept yourself to yourself?' the Necroscope gaspingly inquired of his vampire love while extending a hand and its fingers within her to examine and caress all of her innermost organs and places, and while she moistened with spittle the shining fist which was his glans and taunted its throbbing with the slither of her forked tongue.

'No,' she groaned truthfully. Twice I flew to Sunside at sundown to seek me out a lover. But how may one seduce a terrified man? Anyway, I brought one back here. In a little while he overcame something of his fear and crept into my bed. Ah, I was a yawning chasm, an aching gorge... into which he dropped a pebble! He could not fill me. I milked him dry and wanted more, but all he had left was blood. I knew that I could grind him down, turn him to pulp, murder him within the heart of my womanhood and devour him into myself as easily as eating him. But ... I took him back to Sunside. Since when I've kept me to myself, yes. Just as men and women are for each other, so we Wamphyri may only cleave unto Wamphyri flesh. For there's no pleasure in beasts, and when Wamphyri blood is up humanity is frail.'

'All true,' gurgled the Necroscope, feeling her left nipple extend into his throat like a tongue, while his scrotum swelled to bursting from the pressure of his juices. 'A woman would die in agony from what I have done to you!'

'Likewise a man from these caresses of mine,' she replied, shuddering. 'But of pleasure, however monstrous!' And she drew out his great, soft, spidercrab hand from her body, folded his legs at the knees and fed them into herself; until finally he was drawn in to his navel, and she experienced the geysering of his cold semen laving her palpitating innards.

'And yet the Old Lords in their time took Traveller women for themselves,' Harry panted in his delirium. She was full of him now, her pale belly round and shining, grotesquely bloated where his arms and hands encircled it; and her body had so gorged on him that he looked half-born. She coiled herself forward to kiss him, and their teeth clashed as the flesh of their faces melted into one face.

A moment later she extruded him in a huge contraction; but just as quickly he entered her again, head-first this time, so that she must speak to him telepathically to answer his query. Those women died screaming, she said. I've heard it said that following a raid, Lesk the Glut would take ten or more in a night, bursting them like bladders with his sex! Ah, that was violation! But the so-called 'Lords' weren't all alike; if a girl was beautiful, then she might survive. Brought on by degrees, she would be vampirized, and as her metamorphosis progressed so her satyr Lord would instruct her. The Lord Magula fashioned himself a huge mound of a woman, and slept within her when their excesses exhausted him.

She expanded herself convulsively to let him out, then fell on him and grasped at his slick body with exploratory hands of her own. The Wamphyri equivalent of 'talking dirty' had incensed them... what orifices could be entered (of each of them) were entered; their kisses fetched blood; their juices drenched the bed and dripped from it on to the floor all around. They themselves flopped damply from the bed, slipping and sliding in their own liquids. Harry's system endlessly manufactured semen, which was endlessly sucked from him by Karen's various lips. They let their vampires run rampant. Scythe teeth nibbled (but never so deep as the bone), and nails like claws of Tyrannosaur pulled and gouged (but only to bruise, never to break).

They reduced the bedclothes to drenched rags, the slate bed itself to rubble, the huge room to a shambles. Their lovemaking (lustmaking?) grew frantic and impossible to follow in its contortions and convolutions. Their cries became primal as their bodies shared totally; they knew sex as no merely human beings had ever known it; the Necroscope's greatest climax of many was when Karen entered him.

For fifteen hours they spent themselves, vented, tormented and demented themselves. So that in the end they didn't merely sleep but fell unconscious in each other's coils...

When Harry came out of it, Karen was washing him. 'Don't,' he said, feebly trying to push her away. 'A waste of time. I want you again, now, while you're still here.'

'Still here?' She took his member in her hand to cool its bruises with water, and watched it grow there like a club.

'It's a dream, Karen, a dream!' he gasped, his hand seeking her softness. 'Like everything gone before. Dreams of a madman. I know it now for sure, for I saw you lying dead. Yet here, now... you live! Unless ... is there a necromancer in Starside?'

She shook her head, drawing back from him a little where his hands began to pull with some insistence at her once more entirely human breasts. And: 'It were best if you listened to me, Harry,' she said. 'I wasn't dead that time. It wasn't me you saw lying there, broken in the bony scree.'

'Not you? Then who?'

'Do you remember when you starved me?' Karen stared hard, earnestly, even accusingly at him. 'Do you remember how you lured my vampire out of my body with a trail of pig's blood? Ah, but I was Wamphyri and crafty! The mother creature Inside me was crafty! More so than any other. She - it - left an egg in me. The tenacity of the vampire, Harry.'

'You... you were still Wamphyri?' His mouth had fallen half-open. 'Even after I burned your vampire and its eggs?'

'You burned all but one!' she insisted, 'which remained in me. The thing would grow again, yes. But I knew that if you suspected as much, then that you'd try again. And then that I would die! Oh, and the thought of that terrified me.'

'I remember how I slept.' Harry licked dry, almost desiccated lips. 'I was even more exhausted than now: by what I'd seen and done.'

'Yes.' She nodded. 'You fell asleep in a chair, which was when I was saved. For while you slept one of mine returned to the aerie.'

'One of yours? A creature?' Harry frowned. 'But they were all destroyed or sent away.'

'Sent away, yes,' she answered. 'You had set this one free out of the "goodness" of your heart... sent her away to die!'

'Her?'

'A trog, a handmaiden, a creature who performed menial tasks within the aerie and in my personal chambers. But she had been born here and understood no other existence, and eventually she returned to the only home she'd ever known. I knew it the moment she set foot on the bottom step of the nethermost stairwell; she heard my mind-call and came as fast as she could; but she was starved from her wandering in the cold wilderness of Starside, and wearied unto death by her climb through all the aerie's levels. Even unto death, aye.'

'She died?' Harry felt Karen's small sadness, as at the death of a favourite pet.

The vampire Lady nodded. 'But not before she'd removed the silver chains from my door and disposed of the potted kneblasch plants! Then she collapsed and died, and I saw my chance.

'While still you slept, I dressed her corpse in my best white dress and bundled it from the ramparts. She fluttered down, down, almost as if she flew! But in the end she rushed to the rocks and was broken. This was what you saw when you looked down from that high balcony, Harry. But me: I was in hiding, where I stayed until you were gone from here.'

The Necroscope saw it all now. 'I went back to The Dweller's garden,' he said. 'My son knew what I'd done. Fearing for his own existence, he took my powers from me, then transported me back to my own world where for a time I was only a man. But I discovered monsters there and they discovered me. Until, as you can see, in the end I set myself against one vampire too many.'

Karen had settled down between his spread legs. Despite the seriousness of their discussion of past events, Harry's shaft pounded there like a second heart where her fingers teased the shining rim of its bell. She paused a while to moisten its pulsing tip with her snake's tongue, and to trap its swaying trunk between her breasts. And: 'How strong you are, Harry,' she sighed, perhaps wonderingly. 'Indeed, I do believe you're full again.'

'To see your face,' he answered, 'to smell your body, and feel you wet in your core... how could I be other than full again?' He lifted her up to seat her on his rod, but instead she slipped from his grasp and stepped down from the bed.

'Not here,' she panted.

'Oh?'

'There!' she said.

'There?'

'In that secret place of yours.'

'The Möbius Continuum? To make love there?'

'Why not? Is it a holy place?'

Harry didn't answer. But ... it could well be. It could well be.

'Will you take me there, Harry? And will you take me, fuck me there?'

'Oh, yes,' he answered, throatily. 'And I'll show you a place you just won't believe, where we can fuck for a second or a century, as you will!'

She flew into his arms and he rolled her out of the sheets and into the Möbius Continuum. 'But... there's no light!' she hissed, opening her legs wide and guiding him into her. 'I need to see you: the way your face quakes when you come, the slackening of your mouth as the throbbing subsides and the aching starts.'

'You shall have light,' he grunted, nodding... and in the next moment felt a deadly fear. For that had been close to blasphemy. But he had not intended it. She would have light, yes: blue light, green, and a little red. And as she clawed at his buttocks and rode his bucking, whipping piston shaft, so he foamed within her and carried her moaning through a future-time door.

And now she saw the future racing away from her, and the scarlet light streaming from her own body, with only the faintest trace of blue. Indeed Karen's light mingled with Harry's, twining even as their bodies twined, and his was only slightly less red than hers.

Our life-lines, he told her. We ride them into our future. And then, quoting Fa��thor: We ride there faster than life!

We ride each other into the future, she answered, thrilling to the starburst sensation of it, and to the shock of Harry bursting inside her. And in a little while: 'The blues?'

Travellers, he told her. True human beings.

Then the handful of reds can only be Wamphyri! Survivors in the Icelands. And the greens must be trogs. I... I never saw such colours, such light! Even the brightest auroras over the Icelands were never as bright as this.

Harry plied her breasts like dough in his hands and came yet again, and she felt his seed spraying her inner walls and shuddered to its gush. Your come is cold as a waterfall.

No, it's hot. But cool against your insides, which are a volcano.

It only feels that way, she moaned. For in truth we're both cold, Harry. Both of us.

We're Wamphyri, he answered, but we aren't undead. We've never been dead, not in the way some vampirized people 'die' and sleep a while before their rebirth from the grave. I had expected to be cold, certainly - expected to feel the lust of the Wamphyri, their raw, roaring appetite for life and for all dark carnal experience - but with nothing of enduring emotion. But this is much more than that, other than that.

For you, perhaps, she answered, for you're not long a vampire. And yet... maybe you're right. This isn't as I imagined it. The Old Wamphyri were liars, as anyone knows; could it be that they lied about this, too? Incapable of love, they said. But were they? Or merely incapable of owning up to it? Is it weak to love someone, Harry? And is it strong to be cold and without love?

He welded himself to her, all of his parts melting into hers. Cold? he growled. Well, if we're that cold, then why is our blood so hot? And if we're that weak, then why do I feel so strong? No, I think you've got it in one. The last and most blatant lie of the Wamphyri: that they were without love. They weren't, they were merely afraid to admit it.

And the Necroscope knew that at last the truth of the matter was exposed. The Wamphyri had always been capable of dark passions, desires and deeds beyond the human range; but now, on the same far side of the spectrum, he and Karen had discovered in themselves genuine, equally powerful bonding emotions. And letting those emotions rule could only properly be described as an ecstasy. However sudden, weird and alien their love, they were true lovers. There was lust in it, of course, but was there ever a love affair between man and woman without lust?

As a single fused mass - the first half-human couple ever to 'cleave' to one another in the fullest sense of the word - they sped down the future time-stream. Until out of nowhere, suddenly:

A new light... golden fire... incredible... bursting... all-consuming! At first Harry thought it was some strange and wonderful effect of their sex, their love, but it was more than that. The great, throbbing, one-note Ahhhhhh chorus of the future - which was not sound at all as such but the mind's reaction to a three-dimensional display of ever-expanding time - changed in the space of a single moment to a fiery hissssss! And the Necroscope brought their headlong rush to an abrupt, tumbling halt. Partly extricating themselves but still mainly fused, they spun on an axis of their own while time rushed on. And Karen, temporarily blind, sank needle claws into Harry's shoulders to gasp, What was that?

But the Necroscope, even Harry Keogh, had no answer. As his own eyes adjusted to the golden brilliance, and his mind to the sear and the sizzle, so he glanced back at what had been: like looking into the heart of an exploding blue star, where chemical imbalances caused red and green imperfections. Back there, all was as before. But up ahead, in future time -

- Harry's and Karen's threads of life were no longer red but bright gold where they rushed out of their bodies into the future. And the future itself was a blaze of gold tinged with the leaping orange flares of fire!

Slowly the brazen yellow glare diminished and faded away, smoking into darkness like embers drenched in rain. And the life-lines of the two vanished with it. Beyond this point there was no future for them, not on Starside. But there was a future for some. For the dazed blue life-lines raced on; likewise the greens, though there were fewer of them now. But as for the reds: nowhere a sign of them. And the darkness seemed greater than the light.

A disaster! Harry thought, and Karen heard him.

But what happened - what will happen - here?

Baffled, he could only shake his head and shrug. The greens seem sickly. They are dying.

It was so: a good many trog life-lines grew dim, flickered low and blinked out even as they watched. But the Necroscope's heart picked up again as he noted that others seemed to gain strength and brightness to speed on. And he breathed a mental sigh of relief as new lines commenced to spark into existence, signifying new births and beginnings.

Then: he gathered his startled wits, conjured a door and drew Karen through it into the more nearly 'normal' flux of metaphysical being.

But what happened? She clung to him even tighter.

I don't know. He shook his head and guided her through a final door, emerging from the Möbius Continuum onto the roof of her aerie. And facing into a cold wind off Starside, he added, 'But whatever it was, it will happen, be sure.'

Feeling her shivering where she huddled in his arms, and sensing her despair, he stared inquiringly into her crimson eyes.

'Perhaps I know,' she told him then. 'For we've sensed their resurgence a while now.'

'We?' He allowed her to lead him below, out of the starlight and into the aerie's topmost rooms.

'Your son and I.' She nodded. 'While he was still himself.'

And: 'Their resurgence? Them?' But even asking, so Harry worked out the answer for himself. And now, too, he understood Lardis Lidesci's anxiety and animosity in The Dweller's garden.

The Wamphyri.' She nodded. The Old Lords. Condemned to the Icelands, but not content with the Icelands.'

They passed through massive, fiercely frescoed halls of fretted bone and carved stone, descended cartilage stairs to her chambers where they collapsed into great chairs. And in a while: Tell me all,' Harry grunted.

It had started (on Harry's time scale) two years earlier, which was to say two years after the battle for The Dweller's garden, whose outcome had been the defeat and rout of the Old Wamphyri Lords.

'Sensing a threat from the Icelands,' (Karen went on), 'I requested an audience with The Dweller, during which I confided in him the substance of my fears. By that time he knew well enow that I had survived your "cure", but in any case there was a truce between us. After all, I'd fought alongside you and your son against the Wamphyri; he could not doubt but that I was his ally. Occasionally I would visit him in the mountains, and there were times when he even came to see me here. We were friends, you understand, nothing more.

'But they were strange times: the change was on him; he was losing human flesh and putting on the shape and ways of a wolf. Still and all, and while he retained the mind of a man, we became true allies a second time. For he, too, in his way, had felt the Icelands threat: a weird foreboding that waxed and waned with the auroras, a DOOM which crouched there like a beast on the frozen frontier, all hunched down into itself and tensed ready to spring.

'I have said he sensed it "in his way". Your son is a wolf now, Necroscope, with a wolf's senses and instincts. Across all the leagues he could smell them on the winds out of the north, see them riding in the auroras, hear them whispering and plotting. Plotting their return and their revenge, aye!

'Their revenge, Harry: on The Dweller and his people, on me, on any and all who had helped defeat them, destroy their aeries and banish them into the great cold. Which is to say, on you, too. Except, of course, you were not here at that time. There was only The Dweller and myself. And going the way he was ... it would not be long before I was alone.

'I asked him what must be done.

'"We must set guards," he told me, "out there in the cold waste, to look north and report back on any curious incursions from the Icelands."

'"Guards?"

'"You must make them," he said. "Are you not Wamphyri and Dramal Doombody's rightful heir? Didn't he show you how?"

'"Indeed, I know how to make creatures," I told him.

'"Then do it!" he barked. "Make warriors, but make them male and female. Make them so they can make themselves!"

'"Self-reproducing?" The very idea made me gasp. "But that is forbidden! Even the worst of the old Wamphyri Lords would never have dared... would not even consider - "

'" - Which is why you must do it!" He was forceful. "Aye, for it will save you time at the vats. Make them so they can live and breed on the ice, and feed themselves on the great fishes which live under the ice. But build them with a safety device: only three whelps to a pair, and all males. After that, they'll die out soon enough. But not until they've reported whatever it is that threatens - and done battle with it when it comes rumbling out of the north!"'

Karen shrugged. 'Your son had great wisdom, Necroscope. He knew good from evil, and knew the source of the worst possible evil. But his humanity was failing fast: he knew that when the time came he would not be able to help me, and so he would help me now, with good advice. I thought it was good, anyway.'

'And in the Icelands?' Harry queried. 'Shaithis? Is it him?'

Karen shuddered. 'None other. And not alone.'

'Oh?'

She grasped his arm. 'Do you remember that time at the garden? The fire and thunder; the gas beasts exploding in the sky and raining their guts down on everything; the screams of trogs and Travellers when Wamphyri Lords and lieutenants came strutting with their gauntlets dripping red?'

Harry nodded. 'I remember all of that: also how we seared them with The Dweller's lamps, blinded their flyers, set your warriors against theirs, and finally reduced them to vile evaporation with rays from the sun itself!'

'But not all of them,' she said. 'And Shaithis was only one of the survivors.'

'Who else?'

'The giant Fess Ferenc and the hideous Volse Pinescu; also Arkis Leperson, plus several lieutenants and thralls. None of these were accounted for in the fighting. We must assume they fled north after discovering their aeries shattered and tumbled down to the plain.'

The Necroscope breathed a sigh of relief. 'No more than a handful, then.'

She shook her head. 'Shaithis on his own would be more than a handful, Harry. Not then, when we had your son and his army to side with, but now, when we have only survivors. And what of all the other Lords banished and driven into the Icelands throughout Wamphyri history? What if they have survived, too? Prior to the battle in the garden, all such went singly, slinking, never in a group. Or they might be allowed to take a woman and the odd thrall with them. Perhaps Shaithis and the others have found them and organized them into a small army. But could any army of the Wamphyri ever be said to be small?'

'It could be worse than that,' Harry gloomed at her. 'If they took women with them - if they could live with the unending cold - why shouldn't they breed like your warriors? Let's face it, we don't even know what the Icelands are like. Maybe the only thing that kept Icelanders from invading all of this time was the fact that the Old Wamphyri were stronger! But now... there are no "Old" Wamphyri. Only us, the "new" Wamphyri.'

'Also,' she reminded him, 'out there at the rim of the cold and sluggish sea, a dozen or more warriors, watchers, guards.'

'You followed my son's advice and made yourself some creatures?'

'Yes...' But she looked away.

'Out of what? And why do you avoid my eyes?'

Karen snatched her head round to glare her defiance at him. 'I avoid nothing! I found my materials in the stumps of the shattered aeries, in the workshops of the Lords. Most were ruined, crushed or buried forever, but some were intact. At first I blundered, creating flyers which could not fly, warriors which would not fight. But gradually I perfected my art. You have seen and ridden upon my flyer: an exceptional beast. Likewise my warriors. I made three pairs which were sound and fearsome and mighty, who by now have made six or even nine more. Except...' And again she turned her face away.

Harry caught her chin in a hand and turned it back again. 'Except?'

'For a while now they have not answered my calls. I send my thoughts out across Starside, requesting information, but they don't hear me. Or if they do, they fail - or refuse - to answer.'

Harry frowned. 'You've lost control over them?'

She tossed her head. 'It was something the Old Wamphyri were always afraid of: to make creatures with a will of their own, which might one day bolt and run wild. Mercifully I heeded The Dweller's warning and they are doomed genetically: there'll be no females among the offspring.'

Harry gave a grunt. 'So, you have watchers who don't watch, and warriors which won't war. What other "precautions" have you taken against this threat from the Icelands?'

Now she hissed at him. 'Do you snigger at my works, Necroscope? And should I tell you how I had decided to meet the threat, when and if it should arise? Remember, before you came I was a woman alone; and how do you think Shaithis would deal with me - with Karen, great traitor bitch of the Wamphyri! - if he had survived the Icelands and would now return here? Should I surrender myself to his tender mercies? Hah, no, not while I could defy him to the last!'

'Defy him?' (Lit up in the blaze of her hair and eyes, and in the gleam of her teeth, Harry was struck anew with the thought: She's a volcano, inside and out!) And out loud: 'How, defy him?'

Again she tossed her head. 'Why, rather than have Shaithis force himself upon me, I'd give myself to a more destructive, even more faithless lover. For I'd mount my flyer and head south, over the mountains and across Sunside, even into the brazen face of the sun itself. Let Shaithis chase me there if he would, into streaming gases and exploding flesh and nothingness. So be it!'

Harry drew her into his arms and she came without resistance. 'It won't come to that,' he husked, stroking her hair while her furious tremors subsided. 'Not if I have anything to do with it.' But etched on the mirror of the Necroscope's inner mind, kept hidden even from Karen's telepathy, was a scene out of future time which try as he might he could not banish.

A picture of a fiery, molten gold future. A vision of THE END, framed in the scarlet, all-consuming fires of an ultimate hell...

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