Sundown - Exorcets - The Godmind

Shaithis stood tall and severe in the black, gapped caldera wall and looked south towards Starside. Overhead, the aurora wove in a sky which was otherwise black, but he knew that on Starside it would be sunup. The mountain peaks would be burning gold, and in Karen's aerie thick curtains and tapestries woven with her sigil would guard the uppermost windows, where lances of sunfire might otherwise strike through.

He looked south, narrowing his scarlet eyes to focus upon a far faint line of fire all along the horizon, a narrow golden haze which separated the distant curve of the world first from blue then black space, where all the stars of night hung glittering and hypnotic, seeming to beckon him. Which was a call he would answer. Soon.

Indeed he must, for when the aurora died to a flicker and the sky in the south darkened to jet, then it would be sundown; in advance of which, Shaithis and his devolved, depraved ancestor would muster their warriors, mount their flyers and launch a small but monstrous army from the volcano's steep lava slopes. For them the realization of a dream, and for Starside the advent of a nightmare, was finally in the offing. Shaitan's dream for so many hundreds of years, now looming into being, brought into sharp relief by a lone flyer's recent return out of Starside with its burden of a stolen Traveller waif.

Shaithis remembered the event in minute detail: the way his gloating ancestor had carried off the exhausted, half-dead boy into the gloom of his sulphur-floored chambers; following which (eventually), his mental summons: Come!

In his mind's eye Shaithis saw it all again: the Fallen One, jubilant where he paced or flowed to and fro across the black, grainy floor of his apartments in his excitement. And before Shaithis had been able to frame a question: 'This Dweller of whom you've spoken - ' Shaitan had turned to him ' - this alien youth who used the power of the sun itself to bring down the mighty Wamphyri.'

'Yes, what of him?'

'What of him?' Shaitan had gurgled darkly, delightedly, in his fashion. 'Devolved, that's what! Even as I myself am devolved - but to his far greater cost. So, he bathed you all in blazing sunlight, eh? By which reducing Wamphyri flesh to steam and stench? Well, and he seared himself, too! His vampire must have been injured; it could not repair itself; his metamorphic man-flesh sloughed away even as a leper's. Then ... his desperate vampire returned him to an earlier form: that of its original host and manifestation. Less bulk in that, making the wastage easier to contain, d'you see? And so your Dweller is now ... a wolf!'

'A wolf?' Astonished, Shaithis had remembered his dream.

'A beast, aye, going on all fours. A grey one, the leader of the pack, with nothing of powers except those of the wild. The Travellers hold him in awe, whose forepaws are human hands. A little of his mind must be human, too, at least in its memories. And of course his vampire has survived, in however small part, for that was what saved him. But the rest is wolf.'

'A wolf!' Shaithis had breathed it again. Well, it wasn't the first time he'd experienced oneiromantic dreams. It was an art of the Wamphyri, that's all. 'And his father, the hell-lander Harry Keogh?'

'He is back in Starside, aye.'

'Back?'

'Indeed, for following the battle at The Dweller's garden he returned to his own place. Something which you could hardly be expected to know, for by then you were in exile.'

'His own place? The hell-lands?'

'Hell-lands! Hell-lands! They are not hell-lands! How often must I tell you: this place is hell, with its sulphur stenches, vampire swamps and sun-blasted furnace lands beyond the mountains! Ah, but Harry Keogh's world... to the likes of us it would be a paradise!'

'How can you know that?'

'I can't - but I can suspect it.'

'This Harry Keogh,' Shaithis had mused, 'he had powers, to be sure, but he was not Wamphyri.'

'Well, now he is.' Shaitan at once contradicted him. 'But as yet untried. For who is there to test him, in devious argument or in battle? What's more, the Travellers don't much fear him, for he will not take the blood of men.'

'What?!'

'According to the boy - ' Shaitan had nodded ' - The Dweller's father eats only beast flesh. Compared to your vampire, my son, it seems his is a puling, unsophisticated infant of a thing.'

'And the so-called "Lady" Karen?'

'Ah, yes.' Shaitan had nodded. 'The Lady Karen: last of Starside's Wamphyri. You have designs on that one, don't you? I remember you remarked on her treachery, and even now her name falls like acid from your forked tongue. Well, Karen and Harry Keogh are together. So at least he's that much of a man. They share her aerie. If she's the beauty you say she is, doubtless he's in her to the hilt and beyond even as we speak.'

It was a deliberate jibe and Shaithis knew it, but still he could not resist rising to the other's bait. 'Then they should enjoy each other while they can,' he had answered, darkly. And finally he had looked around for the Traveller child.

'Gone,' Shaitan told him. 'Man-flesh, pure and simple. I've had my share of metamorphic mush these thousands of years. The boy was a tidbit, but welcome for all that.'

'The entire child?'

'In Sunside there are entire tribes,' Shaitan had answered, his voice a clotted gurgle. 'And beyond that entire worlds!'

With which they'd commenced to ready themselves for their resurgence...

Now Shaithis waited on the emergence of his latest warrior-creature, and his ancestor Shaitan the Fallen waited with him. When the beast's scales, grapples and various fighting appendages had stiffened into chitin hard as iron, a matter of hours now, finally it would be time to venture forth against Starside.

As for any future 'battle': would it even last long enough to qualify as such? Shaithis doubted it. For he firmly believed that on his own - single-handedly controlling a mere fistful of warriors from the back of a flyer, and without his ancestor's help - still he would have the measure of Karen and her lover, and whatever allies they might muster. And therefore the measure of Starside, too.

What, a mere female? A pack of wolves? And a vampire 'Lord' who shied from man-blood? No army that - but a rabble! Let Keogh call up the dead if he would; fine for scaring trogs and Travellers, but Shaithis had no fear of the crumbling dead. And as for that other facet of Keogh's magic - that clever trick of his, of coming and going at will, invisibly - that wouldn't help him. Not this time. If he went, good riddance! And if he came let it be to his death!

But on the other hand...

Shaithis could scarcely deny his own troublesome dreams, whose patterns were strange as the auroral energies which even now wove in the sky high overhead. Perhaps he should examine those dreams yet again, as so often before, except -

- No time, not now; for he felt a familiar encroachment and knew that Shaitan was near, in mind if not in body. And: What is it? he inquired.

How clever you are, the other purred telepathically. And oh so sensitive! There's no sneaking up on you, my son.

Then why do you persist in trying? Shaithis was cold.

Shaitan ignored his testiness and said: You should come now. Our creatures are mewling in their vats and would be up and about. They must be tested. We have things to do, preparations to make.

Indeed, it was true enough. And: I shall be there immediately, Shaithis answered, commencing the treacherous climb down from the cone. Yes, for his ancestor wasn't alone in his eagerness to be free of this place. Except there's freedom and there's freedom, and the concept is never the same to any two creatures.

Shaitan would merely free himself from the Icelands, while his descendant... he had something else to be free of.

Some little time earlier, and several thousands of miles to the south: the Necroscope had been out to inspect Karen's advance guard, her early-warning system of specialized warrior-creatures (or rogue troops, as they seemed to have become) where she'd stationed them at the rim of the frozen sea against any incursion from the Icelands. He had gone there via the Möbius Continuum, in a series of hundred-mile jumps which had taken him far across consecutive northern horizons into aurora-lit wastes where the snow lay in great white drifts on the shores of a sullenly heaving, ice-crusted ocean.

Karen's creatures had been there sure enough, and Harry was soon to discover how well they'd adapted. Metamorphic, a single generation had sufficed to accelerate their evolution: they'd grown thick white fur both for protection against the cold and as a natural camouflage. When Harry had thought to detect some slight movement in a humped snowfall, and after he'd carefully moved a little closer, then he'd seen just how effective the latter device was. His first real awareness of the beasts had been when three of them reared up and charged him: in combination, a quarter-acre of murder running rampant!

Then, removing himself some small distance, he'd thought: I'd be little more than a minnow to be divided between three great cats. They'd get no more than a taste apiece.

But note their instinctive tendency to secrecy, Karen had commented from her aerie some two thousand miles south. Their minds may be feeble, but still they were able to hide their thoughts, and thus themselves, away from you. What's more, you are Wamphyri - a Lord, a master - but that didn't stop them either!

The Necroscope had detected a degree of pride in Karen's thoughts; these were her creations, and she'd made a good job of them. Alas, but then she'd allowed them to slip the leash. Still focusing on him, she had detected that thought, too.

The distance was too great, she'd shrugged. I see that now. Telepathy is a special talent which we share. Our mainly human minds are large, and we focus them well, wherefore contact between us is simple. But their minds are small and mainly concerned with survival. Again her shrug. Quite simply, they've forgotten me.

Time they remembered, then, Harry had answered. And as she amplified and reinforced her original orders and instructions, so he'd relayed them directly and forcefully into the group's dull minds. Following which, and when he went among them a second time, they'd behaved with more respect.

Brave of you! she'd commented, however nervously. To examine them at such close quarters. And perhaps a little foolish, too. Come out of there, Harry, please? Come home now?

Home... Did she mean back to the aerie, he wondered? And was that really his home now? Perhaps it was in keeping: that monstrous menhir rising over Starside's boulder plains, whose furnishings were fashioned from the hair and fur, gristle and bones of once-men and -monsters. What better home for a man whose lifelong friend had been the Grim Reaper himself?

Bitter thoughts. But on the other hand it had seemed to Harry that Karen pleaded with him, and that she was concerned for him. And any home was better than none.

Anyway, his job was finished here now and he was cold. But he knew that Karen would warm him...

A universe away, in the Urals: Major Alexei Byzarnov was present in the Perchorsk core for the latest computer-simulated test firing of the Tokarevs. His 2 I/C, Captain Igor Klepko, was in charge of the test. Klepko was short, sharp-featured, with the dark eyes and weather-worn complexion of his steppemen ancestors. Throughout his preparations, the officer had kept up a running commentary for the benefit of the half-dozen junior officers in attendance. Also in attendance and keeping a close eye on the proceedings from where he stood apart on the perimeter walkway under the inward-curving arch of the granite wall, Projekt Direktor Viktor Luchov was quietly intense, totally absorbed in Klepko's instructive monologue as it approached its climax.

Two missiles, yes,' Klepko continued. 'A dual system. In the field their launching would constitute either a preemptive strike in a hitherto non-nuclear battle zone, or retaliation against an enemy's use of similar weapons. The first Tokarev would seek out Enemy HQ somewhere beyond the forward edge of the battle area, and the second would home in on heavy enemy troop concentration in the battle zone.

Tor our purposes, however, here in Perchorsk - ' Klepko shrugged. 'While our targets are somewhat more specific, they remain paradoxically conjectural. We aim to detonate the first missile in a world beyond this, er, Gate,' (with a cursory wave of his hand, he indicated the glaring white sphere behind him), 'and the second Tokarev while it is still inside the "passage" between universes. The mechanics of the thing are very simple. On-board computers are linked by radio; as the first Tokarev clears the Gate into the far world, contact will be broken; one-fifth of a second later both devices will detonate.'

Captain Klepko sighed and nodded. 'As for the purpose of this system: if and when used, it will be entirely defensive. You've all been shown films of creatures from the other side breaking through into this world. I'm sure I don't have to stress how important it is that, in future, no further emergence be allowed.

'Lastly, and before the simulation, there remain the questions of command and personal security.

'Command: these weapons will only be used on the instructions of the Projekt Direktor, as qualified by the Officer Commanding, Major Byzarnov or, in the unlikely event of his absence, by me. Except under circumstances where a chain-of-command situation has been initiated, no other person will have that authority.

'Personal security: from the moment the button is pressed the warheads are armed; there will be a delay of five minutes before firing; anyone who remains in Perchorsk at that time will be alerted by continuous klaxons. The klaxons have only one meaning: GET OUT! Exhaust from the Tokarevs is toxic. As a safety measure against the unlikely failure of the Projekt's ventilation systems, any stragglers will need to employ breathing apparatus until they've exited the complex. It takes about four minutes for a fit man to make it out of here from the core into the ravine.

These Tokarevs are weapons; their use will not be experimental but for effect; there is no failsafe. After firing, the system cannot be aborted and we cannot rely on more than sixty seconds before detonation. Which makes a total of six minutes after initiation. The explosion of the device on the far side should have no effect here, but the one in the passage... may be different. It could be that the sheer power of the detonation will drive radioactive gases and debris back through into Perchorsk. Hopefully all such poisons will be contained down here in the vicinity of the core, by which time the place will have been vacated and the exits sealed.'

Klepko straightened up and put his hands on his hips. 'Any questions?' There were none.

'Simulation is computerized.' He relaxed, scratching his nose and offering an apologetic shrug. 'Bit of a letdown, I'm afraid, if you were expecting a fireworks show. Instead it will all happen on the small screen there in black and white, silent and with subtitles. And no special effects!'

His audience laughed.

'Mainly - !' Klepko held up a warning hand to silence them,' - this is to let you see how short a span six minutes really is.' And he pressed a red button on a box seated in front of him on top of his lectern.

Major Byzarnov had seen the simulation before. He wasn't especially interested in that, but he was interested in the expression on Viktor Luchov's face. One of rapt fascination. Byzarnov took two paces backwards onto the perimeter walkway, edged up quietly on the gaunt scientist and coughed quietly in the back of his throat.

Luchov turned his head to stare at the Major. 'You still think this is some kind of game, don't you?' he accused.

'No,' Byzarnov answered, 'and I never did.'

'I note that any order I might give on the use of these weapons is to be "qualified" by you or your 2 I/C. Do you suspect I might order their use frivolously, then?'

'Not at all.' The Major shook his head, only too well aware of several close-typed, folded sheets of paper where they bulked out his pocket: Luchov's current psychological profile as supplied by the Projekt's psychiatrist. And to himself: Insanely, yes, but not frivolously.

Luchov's eyes were suddenly vacant. 'I sometimes feel that I'm being punished,' he said.

'Oh?'

'Yes, for my part in all of this. I mean, I helped build the original Perchorsk. In those days Franz Ayvaz was the Direktor, but he died in the accident and so paid for his part in it. Since when the responsibility has been mine.'

'A heavy enough load for any man.' Byzarnov nodded, moved apart a little, and decided to change the subject. 'I saw you come up from below, before Klepko started on his demonstration. You were... down in the abandoned magmass levels?'

Luchov shuddered, and whispered: 'God, what a mess things are in, down there! So many of them were trapped, sealed in. I opened a cyst. The thing inside it was like... it was an alien mummy. Not rotten or liquid this time, just a grotesque mass of inverted, half-fossilized flesh. Several major organs were visible on the outside, along with a good many curious - I don't know, appendages? - of rubber, plastic, stone and... and... and et cetera.'

Byzarnov felt sorry for him. Luchov had been here too long. But not for much longer, not if Moscow would act quickly on the Major's recommendation. 'It is terrible down there, Viktor,' he agreed. 'And it might be best if you kept out of it.'

Viktor? And Byzarnov's tone of voice: what, pity? Luchov glanced at him, glared at him, abruptly turned away. And over his shoulder, stridently: 'So long as I am Projekt Direktor, Major, I'll come and go as I will!' And then he made away.

Byzarnov approached Klepko. By now the twin dart shapes moving jerkily across the computer screen had popped into oblivion; the simulation was over; Klepko was finishing off: '... will still be filled with toxic exhaust fumes and could well be highly radioactive! But of course we shall all be well out of it.' The Major waited until Klepko had given the dismiss then took him to one side and talked to him briefly, urgently.

About Luchov.

The Necroscope dreamed.

He dreamed of a boy called Harry Keogh who talked to dead people and was their friend, their one light in otherwise universal darkness. He dreamed of the youth's loves and lives, the minds he'd visited, bodies he'd inhabited, places he had known now, in the past and future, and in two worlds. It was a very weird dream and fantastical - more so because it was true - and for all that the Necroscope dreamed about himself, his own life, still it was as if he dreamed of another.

Finally he dreamed of his son, a wolf... except this part was real and not just a memory from another world. And his son came to him, tongue lolling, and said: Father, they're coming!

Harry came awake on the instant, slid from Karen's bed, went swift and sinuous to the window embrasure where he drew aside the drapes. He was wary, kept himself well to one side, was ready to snatch back his hand in a moment if that should be necessary. But it wasn't, for it was sundown. Shadows crept on the mountain divide, usurping the gold from the peaks. Stars at first scarcely visible, came more glowingly alive moment by moment. The darkness was here, and more darkness was coming.

Karen cried out in her sleep, came awake and jerked bolt upright in the tumbled bed. 'Harry!' Her face was ghostly pale - a torn sheet, with a triangle of holes for eyes and mouth - where she gazed all about the room. But then she saw the Necroscope at the window and the holes of her eyes came burning alive. 'They're coming!'

Their scarlet glances met and joined, forming a two-way channel for thoughts which moments ago were sleeping. Harry saw through Karen's eyes into her mind, but he answered her out loud anyway. 'I know,' he said.

She came off the bed naked and flew to him, buried herself in his arms. 'But they're coming!' she sobbed.

'Yes, and we'll fight them,' he growled, his body reacting of its own accord to the feel and smell of her flesh, which was soft, silky, pliable, ripe, musty and wet where his member grew into her.

She trapped him there with muscles that held him fast, and groaned, 'Let's make this the very best one, Harry.'

'Because it might be the last?'

'Just in case,' she grunted, forming barbs within herself to draw him further in. After that -

- It was like never before, leaving them too exhausted to be afraid...

Later, he said: 'What if we lose?'

'Lose?' Karen stood beside him; they leaned together and gazed out through a window in a room facing north, towards the Icelands. As yet there was nothing to be seen and they hadn't expected there would be. But they could feel... something. It radiated from the north like ripples on a lake of pitch: slow, shuddery and black with its evil.

Harry nodded, slowly. 'If we lose, they can only kill me,' he said. And he thought of Johnny Found and the things he had done to his victims. Terrible things. But compared to Shaithis and any other survivors of the old Wamphyri, Johnny Found had been a child, and his imagination sadly lacking.

Karen knew why the Necroscope closed his mind to her: for her own protection. But it was a wasted effort; she knew the Wamphyri much better than he did; nothing Harry was capable of imagining could ever plumb the true depths of Wamphyri cruelty. That was Karen's opinion; which was why she promised him, 'If you die, I die.'

'Oh? And they'll let you die, will they? So easily?'

They can't stop me. On this side of the mountains it is sundown, but beyond Sunside... true death waits there for any vampire. It burns like molten gold in the sky. That's where I'd flee, far across the mountains into the sun. Let them follow me there if they dared, but I wouldn't be afraid. I remember when I was a child and the sun felt good on my skin. I'm sure that in the end, before I died, I could make it feel that way again. I would will it to feel good!'

'Morbid.' Harry stood up straighter, gave himself a shake. 'All of this, morbid. Keep it up and we're defeated before we even begin. There must be at least a chance we'll win. Indeed, there's more than a chance. Can they disappear at will as we can, like ghosts into the Möbius Continuum?'

'No, but...'

'But?'

'Wherever we go -' she shrugged' - and however many times we escape, we'll always have to return. We can't stay in that place for ever.' Her logic was unassailable. Before Harry could find words to answer - perhaps to comfort her, or himself - she continued, 'And Shaithis is a terrible foe. How devious - ' she shook her head ' - you could scarcely imagine.'

True, a voice came startlingly from nowhere, entering the minds of both of them. Shaithis is devious. But his ancestor, Shaitan the Fallen, is worse far.

The Dweller!' Karen gasped, as she recognized their telepathic visitor. And then, incredulously, 'But did you say ... Shaitan?'

The Fallen One, aye, the wolf-voice rasped in their minds. He lives, he comes, and he, not Shaithis, is the terror.

Harry and Karen reached out with their own telepathy, tried to strengthen the mind-bridge between themselves and their visitor. And for a moment the aerie was filled with flowing mental pictures: of mountain slopes where domed boulders projected through sliding scree; of a full moon lending the crags a soft yellow mantle; of great firs standing tall. And in the shadow of the trees, silver triangle eyes blinking - a good many - where the pack rested before the hunt. Then the pictures faded and were gone, and likewise the one who lived with them and moved among them.

But his warning remained with Karen and the Necroscope. How he could know what he had told them... who could say? But he was, or had been, The Dweller. And that was enough.

Time passed.

Sometimes they talked and at others they simply waited. There was nothing else to do. This time, seated before a fire in the aerie's massive Great Hall, they talked. 'Shaitan is part of my world's legends, too,' said Harry. 'There they call him Satan, the Devil, whose place is in hell.'

'In Starside's histories your world was hell!' Karen answered. 'And all of its dwellers were devils. Dramal Doombody believed it firmly.'

Harry shook his head. 'That the Wamphyri - monstrous as they were, and still are - should hold with beliefs in demons, devils and such,' (again the shake of his head), 'is hard to understand.'

She shrugged. 'How so? Isn't Hell simply the Unknown, any terrible place or region of which nothing is understood? To the Traveller tribes it lay across the mountains in Starside, while to the Wamphyri it waited on the other side of the sphere Gate. Certainly it must be horrible and lethal beyond that Gate, for no one had ever returned to tell of it. That was how the Wamphyri saw it. I saw it that way, too, in the days before Zek and Jazz, you and your son. And don't forget, Harry, even the Wamphyri were once men. However monstrous a man may grow, still he'll remember the night fears of his childhood.'

'Shaitan,' Harry mused. 'A mystery spanning two worlds. The legend was taken into my world by banished Wamphyri Lords and occasionally their Traveller retainers when they were sent through Starside's Gate.' But in his own mind: Oh, really? Or is the so-called 'legend' more properly universal? The Great Evil, the Lord of Lies, of all wickedness? What of the similarity in the names...?

Satan, Shaitan? Are there devils in all the universes of light? And what of angels?

'Better stop thinking of him as a legend,' Karen warned, as if she'd been listening to his thoughts, which she had not. 'The Dweller says he's real and coming here, which means that in order to live we have to kill him. Except, if Shaitan has already lived for - how long? Two, three thousand years? - is it even reasonable to believe that we can kill him?'

Harry had scarcely heard her. He was still working things out. 'How many of them?' he finally asked. 'Shaitan will be their leader, and Shaithis with him. But who else?'

'Survivors from the battle at the garden,' Karen answered. 'If they also survived the Icelands.'

'I remember.' Harry nodded. 'We've considered them before: Fess Ferenc, Volse Pinescu, Arkis Leperson and their thralls. No more than a handful. Or, if others of the Old Lords survived the ordeal of exile, a large handful.' He drew himself up. 'But I'm still the Necroscope. And again I say: can they come and go through the Möbius Continuum? Can they call up the dead out of their graves?' (And once more, to himself: Can you, Harry? Can you?)

'Shaitan may have the art,' she answered. 'For after all, he was the first of the Wamphyri. Since when, he's had time enough for studying. It's possible he can torment the dead for their secrets.'

'But will they answer him?' Harry growled, his eyes glowing like rubies in the firelight. 'No, no, I didn't mean necromancy but Necroscopy! A necromancer may "examine" a corpse or even a long-dead mummy, but I talk to the very spirits of the dead. And they love me; indeed, they'll rise up from their dust for me...' A lie. You even lie to yourself now. You are Wamphyri, Harry Keogh! Call up the dead? Ah, you used to, you used to.

He started to his feet: 'I have to try,' and went down to Starside's foothills under the garden, where long ago he called up an army of mummied trogs to do battle with Wamphyri trogs. He talked to their spirits in his fashion, but only the wind out of the north answered him. He sensed that they were there and heard him, but they kept silent. They were at peace now; why should they join the Necroscope in his turmoil?

He went up into the garden. There were graves - far too many of them - but untended now: Travellers who died in the great battle, trogs laid to rest in niches under the crags. They heard him, too, and remembered him well. But they felt something different in him which wasn't to their liking. Ah, Wamphyri! Necromancer! This man, or monster, had words which could call them to a horrid semblance of life even against their will.

'And I might!' he threatened, sensing their refusal, their terror. But from within: What, like Janos Ferenczy? What price now your 'humanity', Harry?

He went back to the aerie, to Karen, and told her bleakly, 'Once ... I could have commanded an army of the dead. Now there are just the two of us.'

Three, The Dweller's growl was in their minds, but clear as if he stood beside them. You fought for me once. Both of you, for my cause. My turn, now.

That seemed to decide it, to state their case, set their course. Even though it was the only course they'd ever had.

Karen fetched her gauntlet and dipped it in a cleansing acid solution, then set to oiling its joints. 'Me,' she said, 'I tore the living heart out of Lesk the Glut! Aye, and there was a lot more to fear in those days. And it dawns on me: I'm not afraid for myself but for the loss of what we have. Except that when you look at it, well, what do we have, after all?'

Harry jumped up, strode to and fro shaking his fists and raging inside and out. And then grew deadly calm. It was his vampire, of course, still seeking ascendancy. He nodded knowingly, and grunted, 'Well, and maybe I've kept you down long enough. Perhaps it's time I let you out.'

'What?' Karen looked up from working on her gauntlet.

'Nothing.'

'Nothing?' She arched her eyebrows.

'I only asked... where shall it be?'

The garden, said The Dweller, far away in the mountains.

They heard him, and Karen agreed, 'Aye, the garden has its merits. We know it well, anyway.'

Finally, with a furious nod, the Necroscope surrendered to his vampire. In part, at least. 'Very well,' he snarled, 'the garden. So be it!'

And so it would be.

In Starside ...

It was the hour when all that remains of the furnace sun is a smudgy grey luminosity in a sky gnawed by jutting fangs of mountain, and the nameless stars are chunks of alien ice freezing in weird orbits. The deepest, darkest hour of sundown, and the last of the Wamphyri - Shaithis and Shaitan, Harry Keogh and Karen - were coming together to do battle in an empty place once called the garden. All four of them, the last of their race, and The Dweller, too; except he was no longer Wamphyri as such, or if he was even his vampire scarcely knew it.

Karen had known for some time now that the invaders were close and closing on Starside, ever since her creatures out on the rim of the rimy ocean called to her one last time to pass on that information - before they died. And as they died, so Karen had asked them: How many are the enemy, and what are their shapes? It was easier far to gauge strength and substance that way than from complicated descriptions; the distance was great, and the brains of warriors are never too large (unwise to invest such masses of menace with other than the most rudimentary intelligence). Nevertheless, vague pictures of flyers, warriors, and controlling beings had come back pain-etched out of the north, showing Karen how small was the army of Shaitan.

It consisted only of a pair of controlling Lords, who rode upon massive flyers with scale-plated heads and underbellies, and a half-dozen warriors of generally unorthodox construction. Unorthodox, aye ... to say the least. For the invaders (who could only be Shaithis and Shaitan the Fallen, though Karen held back from any kind of direct contact with their minds) had apparently seen fit to break all the olden rules of the Wamphyri in the fashioning of these beasts. For one they had organs of generation, much like Karen's constructs, and for another they seemed to act much of their own accord, without the guidance of their supposed controllers. Lastly, one of them was a monster even among monsters! So much so that Karen didn't even care to dwell upon it.

At first (she was informed) there had been an extra pair of flyers, weary beasts whose riders landed them in deep drifts close to the edge of the ocean. Alighting, the Wamphyri Lords had then called down their warriors and fresh flyers out of the sky, allowing them to fuel themselves on the exhausted bodies of these first mounts. And while they were busy with their food, that was when Karen's guardian creatures had attacked... only to discover the overwhelming ferocity and superiority of Shaitan's warriors. That was the message which the last of Karen's beasts conveyed to her, before its feeble mind-sendings were swamped by dull pain and quickly extinguished.

Harry had been asleep at that time, wracked by nightmares. Karen had watched him tossing and turning, and listened to him mouthing of 'the cone-shaped universes of light', and of Möbius, a wizard he'd known in the hell-lands: 'a mathematician who got religion; a madman who believes God is an equation... which is more or less what Pythagoras believed, but centuries before him!' And of the Möbius Continuum, that fabulous, fathomless place where he'd made metamorphic love to her, and which he now considered 'an infinite brain controlling the bodies of universes, in which simple beings such as myself are mere synapses conveying thoughts and intentions, and perhaps carrying out... some One's will?'

By then the Necroscope's dream had been a feverish thing, full of thoughts, conversations and associations out of his past, even past dreams, all tangled in a kaleidoscope of the real and surreal, where his life from its onset was observed to have been metamorphic as his flesh in the way it had burst open to sprout weird discoveries and concepts. The dream contained - even as a dying man's last breath is said to contain - crucial elements of that entire life, but concertinaed into a single vision of mere moments.

When the cold sweat started out on his grey brow, Karen might have gentled him awake; except his words fascinated her; and anyway he needed to sleep, in order to be strong for the coming battle. Perhaps he would settle down again when the nightmare was past. And so she sat by him while he sweated and raved of things quite beyond her conception.

About time's relativity and all history, that of the future as well as the past, being contemporary but occurring in some strange 'elsewhere'; and about the dead - the real dead, not the undead - waiting patiently in their graves for a new beginning, their second coming; and about a great light, the Primal Light, 'which is the ongoing, unending Bigger Bang as all the universes expand for ever out of darkness!' He mumbled about numbers with the power to separate space and time, and of a metaphysical equation, 'whose only justification is to extend Mind beyond the span of the merely physical'.

On one level, it was the subconscious whirlpool of Harry's instinctive mathematical genius enhanced by his now ascendant vampire; while on a higher plane it was a violent confrontation between two entirely elemental powers: Darkness and Light, Good and Evil, Knowledge for its own sake (which is sin), and the total absence of knowledge, which is innocence. It was the Necroscope's subconscious battle with himself, within himself, which must be fought and won lest the final darkness fall; for Harry himself would be the bright guardian of worlds still to come, or their utter destruction before they were even born.

But Karen didn't know any of that, only that she mustn't wake him just yet. And Harry fevered on. 'I could give you formulae you haven't even dreamed of...'he sneered out of some all but forgotten past time, while the lights of his eyes burned scarlet through lowered, frantically fluttering lids. 'An eye for an eye, Dragosani, and a tooth for a tooth! I was Harry Keogh... became my own son's sixth sense, before Alec Kyle's emptied head sucked me in and made his body mine... The great liar Fa��thor would have lived in there with me, but where's Fa��thor now, eh? And where's Thibor? And what of the Bodescu brat? And Janos?' Suddenly he sobbed and great tears squeezed themselves out from under his luminous eyelids.

'And Brenda? Sandra? Penny? Am I cursed or blessed...?

'I had a million friends, which would be fine except they were all dead! They "lived" in a dimension beyond life, where I could still talk to them and they could still remember what it was to have been alive.

'There are many dimensions, planes of existence without number, worlds without end. The myriad cone-shaped universes of light. And I know how they came about. And Möbius knew it before me. Pythagoras might have guessed something of it, but Möbius and I know\

'Let there be...' (He screwed up his tightly closed eyes.) 'Let there be...' (Great slugs of sweat oozed out of his shuddering lead-grey body.) 'Let there be....'

Until Karen could stand his pain - for this could only be pain - no longer. And clutching him where he writhed upon her bed, she begged him: 'Let there be what, Harry?'

'Light!' he growled, and his furious eyes shot open, aglow with their own heat.

'Light?' she repeated him, her voice full of wonder.

He struggled to sit up, gave in and let himself sink down into her arms. And he looked at her, nodded and said, 'Yes, the Primal Light, which shone out of His mind.'

Harry's eyes had always been weird, even before his vampire stained them with blood, but now they were changing from moment to moment. Karen saw the fury go out of them, then the fear, and watched fascinated as all alien vitality - even the very passion of the Wamphyri -died in them. For with only one exception the Necroscope was the first of his sort to know and believe.

'His mind?' Karen repeated him at last, wondering at the softness of his face, which was that of a child.

'The mind of ... God?' Even now Harry couldn't be absolutely certain. But near enough. 'Of a God, anyway,' he finally told her, smiling. 'A creator!'

And inside him, instinctively aware of looming defeat, his vampire shrank down and was small, and perhaps bemoaned its fate: to be one with a man who desired only to be ... a man.
    
 

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