Sky Fight!

From then on the Necroscope had been different; his parasite's ascendancy had been reversed; once again his humanity had the upper hand. Karen to the contrary: she tried to insist that he accompany her on raids into Sunside to 'blood' himself. Naturally he would hear nothing of it, and she would be furious.

'But you're not blooded!' she'd growl at him as they made love. 'There's a frenzy in the Wamphyri which only blood will release, for the blood is the life! Unless you take, you may not partake in your fullness. You must fuel yourself for the fight, can't you see that? How may I explain?'

But in fact there was no need for explanations; Harry knew well enough what she meant. He'd seen it in his own world. In boxers, the moment they draw blood: how the first sight and smell of it inspires them to greater effort, so that they go at their opponents with even more determination, and always hammering away at the same wet, red-gleaming spot. He'd seen it in cats large and small: the first splash of mouse-blood which turns a kitten to a hunter, or drives the hunter to a frenzy. And as for sharks: nothing else in all the unexplored span of their lives has half so much meaning for them!

But: 'I've eaten well,' he would answer.

And: Hah! he would hear her mental snort of derision. Of what? The flesh of pigs, and roasted? What's that for fuel?'

'It fuels me well enough.' 'And your vampire not at all!'

'Then let the bastard starve!' But he would never allow himself the luxury of greater anger than that.

Sometimes, he would try to explain:

'What's coming is coming,' he told her. 'Didn't we see it in the Möbius Continuum, in future time? Of all the lessons of my life, Karen, this is the one I've learned the best: never try to change or avoid what's written in the future, for it is written. All we can hope for is a better understanding of the writing, that's all.'

Again her snort: Hah! And bitterly, 'And now who is beaten, even before the fight?'

'Do you think I don't feel tempted?' he said then. 'Oh, I do, believe me! But I've fought this thing inside me for such a long time now that I can't just let it win, no matter the cost. If I succumbed to rage and lust - went out and took the life of a man, and drained his blood - what then? Would it give me the strength I need to destroy Shaithis and Shaitan? Perhaps, but who would be next after them? How long before I started the Wamphyri cycle all over again, but strong this time as never before, with all the powers of a Necroscope to play with? And with my vampire's bloodlust raging, what then? Do you think I wouldn't begin to look for a way back into my own world, to return there as the greatest plague-bearer of all time?'

'Perhaps you'd be a king there,' she answered. 'With me to share your bone-throne.'

He nodded, but wryly. 'The Red King, aye, and eventually Emperor of a scarlet dynasty. And all of our undead lieutenants - our bloodsons, and those who got our vampire eggs, and their sons and daughters - all of them pouring their pus on a crumbling Mankind, building their aeries and carving kingdoms of their own; as Janos would have done from his Mediterranean island, and Thibor the warlord after he'd turned Wallachia red, or Fa��thor on his blood-crazed crusades. And all of our progeny Necroscopes in their own right, with neither the living nor the dead safe from them. Hell-lands? Now you're talking, Karen!'

Following which he wouldn't even listen to her. But even if he had it would have been too late.

For that was when Karen's other watchers, great Desmodus bats from the aerie's colony, brought news of the arrival on Starside's far northern borders of Shaitan and his small but deadly aerial forces. Inaudible except to Karen and to others of their own genus, the cries of the great vampires relayed the message back across seven hundred miles of barren boulder plains: the fact that after four and a half years of peace, the Old Wamphyri were finally returning to Starside.

She was bringing mewling warriors out of their vats when the warning arrived, and went straight to Harry where he stood wrapped in his thoughts on a balcony facing north. 'Stand there long enough, Necroscope,' she told him, 'and you'll be able to wave them a welcome! Nor will you have to wait too long.'

He barely glanced at her, acknowledged her presence with a nod. 'I know they're here,' he said. 'I've felt them coming like maggots chewing on the ends of my nerves. They're not so many, but they shake the ether like an army shakes the earth. It's time we went to the garden.'

'You go,' she told him, touching his arm as some of the sting went out of her voice. 'See if you can call down your son out of the hills. Maybe he'll bring his grey brotherhood with him, though what good they'll be is hard to say. But me, I've a trio of warriors to wean and instruct. They're built of fine, fierce stuff, right enough - good stuff, left behind by Menor Maimbite and Lesk the Glut, which I found intact under the ruins of their stacks �C but when it comes to the fashioning... well, it's true I'm a novice compared to them.'

'Just make sure they'll own me as their master as well as yourself,' was Harry's reply. 'That way, even if they haven't the measure of Shaitan's creatures, still I might be able to come up with a trick or two.'

Then he turned and caught her up so swiftly in his arms that she gasped aloud. And: 'Karen,' he said, 'we've seen our futures: the red threads of our lives melting into golden fire, then fading to nothing. It didn't look too good for us, but at the same time it could mean anything. We simply don't understand it. And in any case, whatever it means, it has to be better than what we saw of our enemies' futures; for they didn't have any! No scarlet threads in Starside's tomorrows, Karen.'

'I remember,' she said, without freeing herself, pressing more firmly to him. 'And so I stay and fight. Whatever becomes of us, it's worth it to know that they die, too.'

Harry held her very close, very tightly, and his looks were even more those of a small boy. He found himself wishing it were all a fantastic dream, and that he'd wake up a schoolboy with all his future ahead of him, but retaining enough of the dream that he'd make no false moves. Ah, if only things worked that way! 'I wish I'd known you as some ordinary girl in my own world, when I was just a man,' he told her on impulse.

Karen wasn't so romantic. She had been an innocent in her time, until she was stolen. Now and then a blushing Traveller youth had wanted her, but in those days she'd kept herself (as she'd thought) for something better. Hah! 'We would be fumbling, giggling lovers for an hour.' Her answer was harsh. 'To hell with it ... I prefer what we've had! Anyway, you are the Necroscope. What do you know of ordinary men?'

The fire in her was a catalyst; it burned outwards through her shell to illuminate her as she really was: Wamphyri! Harry could be like her, yes, but did he need to be? He'd gone up against Dragosani, Thibor, Yulian Bodescu and all the others as a man, albeit a man with powers. No, never an ordinary man, but neither had he been a monster. And now there were others to set himself against. But again, as a man, or as nearly as possible.

He released her. 'Is there a flyer ready?'

'In the launching bay, yes. But won't you use the Möbius route?'

He shook his head. 'My son and his grey brothers wouldn't see me. He might know, in his way, and he might not. Riding a flyer I'll be visible, a curiosity. Not many flyers in Starside's skies these days.'

At the launching bay, watching him take off in the saddle of the pulsing manta-shape which was his flyer, she saw that he was right: other than himself, the skies were empty. For now.

Feeling empty herself, Karen went back to her warriors...

Harry and Karen were together in the garden's desolation when Shaithis and Shaitan the Fallen came back into the old Wamphyri heartland. But contrary to expectations the invaders did not launch an immediate attack; instead they came gliding and squirting out of dark, aurora-flickering northern skies, and oh so warily circled the debris-littered plains where the tumbled stacks of extinct vampire Lords lay in shattered ruin. Eventually, ever cautious, they landed in the bays of Karen's aerie and explored its empty levels, finding nothing inimical, no hidden pitfalls, no hostile creatures waiting in the shadows. But neither did they find gas-beasts, siphoneers, servitors in any shape or form. No comforts whatsoever, except perhaps in the strength of the aerie's ancient walls. And even these weren't secure enough for Shaithis.

'I was witness to the destruction of greater stacks than this one,' he told Shaitan. 'My own included!'

Two of them.' The other chuckled, nodding his great black cowl. 'It took both Harry Keogh and The Dweller to control the power of the sun that time. Can't you see that? But there is no more Dweller - he's gone, shrivelled to a wolf. And as for his father: why, on his own this pale unblooded alien is less than a puling child!'

'Then why don't we attack, and without delay?'

'We do, but not until we've fuelled our beasts and filled our own bellies. Then, after we've rested our bones a little - and perhaps seen to other needs too long denied - that will be soon enough. For we've come a long, cold, weary way, Shaithis; and not merely to dispose of this hated enemy of yours, or to let you sate yourself on the flesh of a female who spurned and betrayed you. So calm yourself and be patient, and everything you most desire shall be.'

But for all Shaitan's apparent confidence, deep in his black heart he, too, was concerned about their opponent, the so-called hell-lander Harry Keogh, a vampire who had not yet tasted the blood of other men. Unknown to Shaithis, the great leech which was his ancestor had already employed his own superior, infinitely furtive vampire powers in a remote, partial examination of the Necroscope. Shaitan's telepathy was more advanced even than Karen's and Harry's (indeed, his was the maggot which had gnawed on Harry's nerve-endings); even so, what probes he'd attempted had been perfunctory. The reason was simple: only penetrate the outermost shell of the Necroscope's psychic aura - come within miles of the core of light, the unplumbed, emerging Centre of Power which he must never be allowed to become - and any sensitive being would feel it for himself. (As Shaithis might if he weren't such a dullard; but such a beautiful dullard, and all wasted... for now, anyway.) That pent energy which was so much greater than that of a mere man, possibly greater even than that of certain vampires. But energy of what, from where? These were the questions which caused Shaitan's concern; for until he knew what Harry Keogh was, or what he might become, he couldn't really be sure how to deal with him.

Far easier, when the time was right, to deal with Shaithis the self-considered Devious - Shaithis the very beautiful, very dull, would-be Great Traitor - who would soon prove himself to be Shaithis the Great Fool. That same Shaithis who kept such a tight guard on his mind, lest its vile and treacherous thoughts fly free. Except, why, Shaitan had long ago made himself privy to his descendant's thoughts, which were secret no longer!

But imprudent to fuss over all of that now; time enough when Starside's weird, alien defender was dead or otherwise disposed of. Or perhaps earlier, but only if Shaithis himself should bring it to a head.

These were Shaitan's thoughts, but all kept hidden from Shaithis, of course...

They left a lone warrior guarding the aerie and took the rest with them into Sunside, where soon they spied the fires of a Traveller settlement. Then for a little while the night air was filled with the screams of men, the bellowing of warriors and the sounds of their gluttony; also with the hot reek of the freshly dead, and with the shrieks of those taken alive. Of the latter: there were six, and they were all women.

Later... the higher windows of Karen's aerie came flickering alive with the ruddy light of fires; smoke went up from the chimneys; it was as if a great and merry party took place there. For vampires so long denied it was merry, anyway.

What battered, broken tidbits were left when Shaithis and Shaitan were done went to the warriors for sweetmeats. A small mercy that nothing of that ravaged flesh still lived...

In the garden, Harry and Karen slept.

The Necroscope still reckoned time in days and nights. As yet, when his mind told his body it was night, his body's response was to sleep. But in any case his weariness would be as much mental as physical, for he knew that in any battle to come he would be fighting himself no less than the enemy. The problem, which always chased itself in circles until he grew tired, never changed: how to win without calling on his vampire for its assistance, without giving it full rein over the range of its powers? For to allow his leech total ascendancy would be to signal his own submission, following which he'd no longer be his own man but Wamphyri in every sense of the word.

Karen had no such problem: she already was Wamphyri! But before that she'd been woman, and the Necroscope was her man. When he slept, so did she, curled in his arms. They were not totally unprepared, however: they were clothed, and Karen's gauntlet lay close to hand. And not unmindful of their position, they'd set a watch. A warrior grunted a little, shifting its hugely armoured bulk for comfort where it had been positioned in the shadows beyond the crest of the saddle; likewise Karen's second beast, forward in the lee of the wall where the ground fell steeply away to Starside's foothills and the plain beyond. As for the third creature: it was situated at a higher elevation, on a ledge under an overhang in the western crags, where its many night-oriented eyes peered far out across the boulder plains, searching the skies and starlit wastes for any unwarranted movement.

But unknown to the sleepers, there was a fourth, far less conspicuous watcher. Once known as The Dweller, now he was a lean grey shape who kept himself apart, observing the unkempt garden from the cover of the ragged treeline. Sometimes, in a flash of memory, he would understand why he had come here, but at others he wasn't quite sure. Anyway, here he was.

And it was his snarled mind-call - together with a sudden bellowing and screaming of embattled beasts -which startled the Necroscope and his Lady awake when at last the invaders struck. And for all their precautions, still they were taken by surprise, for the enemy didn't strike out of Starside at all but from Sunside over the mountains, where it was still sundown!

The invaders had departed Karen's aerie in full force, crossed the peaks far to the east where there was no one to observe them, and turned west in the lee of the mountains. Under cover of the great barrier range, their Sunside flight path had followed the spine of the crags to the latitude of the garden where, rising up over the peaks to look down on the territory of the defenders, they'd carefully noted the locations of the warriors and the fact that nothing else was stirring. Then their probes had discovered Karen's sleeping mind. As for the Necro-scope's mind: even asleep it had been shielded and impenetrable. And dreaming.

Harry dreamed that he sped down Starside's future time-stream; his eyes were full of the dazzle of blue, green and red lines of life, and his ears seemed tuned to the unending Ahhhhhhhh! monotone of life's expansion into all of the tomorrows of all the Universes of Light. Last time he had been with Karen, but this time he was alone, paying more attention to his surroundings, and aware of the convergence of scarlet vampire threads upon his own. And just when it seemed they must fuse together in some weird temporal collision, that was the point at which Möbius time turned golden in that furious melting-pot which terminated... everything?

Maybe not.

But that was when his dream terminated, and Harry sprang awake in the ruined Traveller dwelling which he and Karen had made their headquarters. And Karen, too, waking up in his arms.

The warriors!' she gasped, expanding her hand to thrust it into the coarse-lined matrix of her gauntlet.

'I'll see,' Harry answered, already on his feet and conjuring a Möbius door, which coincided with the doorframe of the stone-fashioned dwelling. And as he stepped through both, so he glanced at the sky. Up there, flyers! He saw them in the moment before the Möbius Continuum enveloped him: vast manta shapes pulsing on high, from whose saddles Wamphyri riders directed the attack of their warriors. But apart from warriors already landed and joined in battle with Karen's creatures, there were several still airborne, squirting across the stars like aerial octopi, their vanes extended and propulsion orifices blasting. Three of them in a protective triangle formation around their controllers, but how many were already down?

Harry emerged from the Continuum at the back of the saddle. Karen's guardian warrior was under attack from two lesser but incredibly ferocious beasts; one was underneath, pincers and sickles working to disembowel, while the other rode its back, biting a way through to the spine. Even metamorphic flesh must soon succumb to this!

Disengage, the Necroscope ordered. Get aloft if you can. Harass the enemy in the sky. In order to address the warrior, he had opened his mind.

Karen was in at once: I've launched the warrior from the ledge in the crags, she immediately informed him. He's fast and fierce. If you can get that one airborne... Shaithis and Shaitan may well be disadvantaged. Their flyers are unconventional, heavily armoured, but still no match for warriors. Maybe we can knock the bastards out of the sky!

But now, in close proximity with the enemy, their thoughts were no longer private. Ho, Karen! Shaithis called down gleefully from on high. Ever treacherous, eh? Why, I do believe you'd damn me with your last breath. And so you shall, for I shall see to it! And to Harry, growlingly, As for you, hell-lander: ah, but I remember you well enow! For I had an aerie, upon a time - till you and your Dweller son reduced it to so much rubble. But where's your son now, eh? A great wolf, I hear, siring pups by the light of the moon. Oh? Ha, ha, ha! And what bitch did you get him out of, eh?

Harry heard Shaithis's sneering clearly enough; also Shaitan's abrupt interruption, which oozed in his mind like mental slime: Taunting serves no purpose. Kill him by all means, when the time is right - but until then let it be.

The Necroscope's vampire raged; it wanted its way; its demands on Harry were mental as well as physical, so that he could almost hear it screaming: 'Give me the right! Let me smite them! Only give your mind and body to me, and in my turn I'll give you... everything!' But Harry knew it was a lie and that in fact his parasite would take everything.

He heard a buffeting of air, adopted a defensive crouch and glanced aloft. Karen was already airborne; Harry's flyer, which she had sent, made a tight turn and descended towards him. As the creature's fifty-foot span of membranous manta wing, spongy flesh, cartilage and alveolate bone swooped low overhead, Harry leaped and snatched at the harness fittings under its neck. Another moment and he was hauling himself into the saddle. And on the ground the beleaguered warrior threw off its attackers and squirted aloft.

Good! Harry told it. Now get up there with your ugly twin and help him tear those enemy flyers out of the sky.

Let's all assist them, came Karen's mind-call, as her beast commenced climbing a spiralling wind off Starside to where the invaders seemed to sit among the stars.

And rising up towards the armoured flyers of Shaithis and Shaitan within their arrowhead formation of hissing, throbbing warriors, Harry queried: Where's our warrior number three?

Dead on the ground, Necroscope, Karen answered, grimly. Crushed by the most terrible construct I ever saw. In the old days, even to conceive of such a beast would have meant automatic banishment. The old rule was simple: never bring to being anything which might prove difficult to put down. For even the feeblest brain will eventually learn tricks of its own. As for these things which Shaithis and Shaitan have devised - especially that one -why, can't you feel their evil intelligence? They are abominations!

Harry looked all around in the sky, finally glanced down through a thousand feet of dark, empty air and saw what followed on behind. And: I see what you mean, he said.

What he saw was this: rising alongside Karen and himself, in the same section of the spiral, the warrior he had ordered aloft dripped fluids from an underbelly whose scaly armour had been breached. Plasma gouts gleamed red as a ruby necklace where metamorphic tissues were already at work healing deep neck wounds. For the present the warrior's propulsors blasted as before, but Harry fancied he could detect a sputtering even now.

A little higher than he and Karen and climbing that much faster, the unscathed warrior she'd launched from the crags vented propulsive gases in a fury. It snorted like a dragon where it made an all too obvious beeline for the alien flyers and their riders overhead. Responding like monstrous automata to the threat, the trio of escorting warriors turned inwards and began to converge, lost a little height, then fell like stones with their vanes angling them towards their target.

All of this registered in a moment: the fact that here in the middle air and overhead, Karen and the Necroscope were already gravely outnumbered. As for the situation below, that was worse. The enemy warriors which had given Karen's creature a mauling at the back of the garden had launched themselves into the same updraught and were gaining; and coming up even faster behind them was that destroyer of her third creature, which she'd described as the most terrible warrior she ever saw. No expert in such things, still Harry had to agree.

It had squidlike lines... which was where any comparison with creatures of previous knowledge must break down. Gigantic, it was flesh and blood, cartilage and bone, but it had the look and grey mottling of some weird flexible metal. Clusters of gas bladders like strange wattles bulked out its throbbing body and detracted from its manoeuvrability, but were necessary to carry the extra weight of its arms and armour. These were not additional to the warrior but integral; like a great thunder-lizard of primal Earth, its weaponry was all built-in. Except Nature in her wildest dreams had never equipped anything like this. No, for this thing was of Shaithis's fashioning.

Well, Necroscope? Karen's telepathic voice was suddenly shrill with alarm.

Running for it will simply delay things, he answered.

So? Panic was rising in her like the wind off Starside.

So let's give it our best shot right here and now!

Overhead, a deadly arrowhead formation stooped on Karen's warrior like hawks to a pigeon. Harry ordered his flyer, Stay with your mistress, then rolled from his saddle through a hastily conjured Möbius door... and emerged in the next moment on the scaled back of Karen's warrior, where he could almost taste the hot stench of the incoming warriors. That close!

Sideslip! he ordered his startled mount. And conjuring a massive door, he guided the monster through it. The enemy trio slammed together in a snarling knot where Harry had been, but now he came squirting out of the Möbius Continuum far above them - on a level with the armoured flyers of Shaithis and Shaitan!

Even as his eyes met theirs across the gulf of air, so he picked up something of Shaithis's telepathic ranting: You and your damned magic, you ordure of the hell-lands!

Harry was distracted; he'd looked into the scarlet eyes of Shaitan, too, and the Fallen One had looked burningly into his. No hatred in the mind of that great leech, no, not for the Necroscope; only an intense curiosity. Save your curses, he told Shaithis. For this one might yet do us great harm. Then you'll have real reason to curse him. And Harry heard that, too.

Down below, the trio of confused warriors had untangled themselves; their propulsors roared as they commenced climbing again. Two of you, Shaithis called to them. To me, and hurry! But to the third warrior: Get after the woman. You know what to do...

Slimy bastard thing! Harry hurled the thought at Shaithis before realizing it was no great insult. He looked for Karen's flyer and saw it turn out of the rising spiral to follow the mountains east. A pair of warriors - one of which was her own wounded creature - spurted in her wake; they clashed sporadically, fiercely in the sky. Karen's warrior was getting the worst of it, but her flyer was gaining time and distance. For the moment Harry seemed to have lost the giant warrior.

Chancing that Karen was in no immediate danger, he clung to the scales of his monstrous mount and sent it spurting head-on at his enemies. They turned tail and sped out over Starside's plain of boulders, heading roughly towards the broken aeries of the Wamphyri. Now it became apparent that their flyers had the advantage of speed in level flight; seeing that he couldn't hope to catch them this way, Harry conjured a door and guided his warrior through it -

- And emerged directly above the flyers where they streamlined themselves and winged east. Shaithis heard the warrior's howling propulsors, felt its shadow on his back and looked up. The Necroscope's grin was scarlet, furious, as he slammed his mount down on Shaithis's flyer and tried to crush him in his saddle. His target at once hurled himself flat in the hollow of his mount's shoulders. Harry's warrior extended grapples, pincers, retractable jaws, began cutting the flyer to pieces in mid-air; its razor-sharp appendages came dangerously close to Shaithis where he squirmed for his life. Dripping the blood of its torn victim, Harry's warrior lifted up a little, again dashed all of its bulk down on the flyer. And slipping from his saddle to hang from its trappings in the scarlet rain, Shaithis knew his beast was a goner.

Shaitan! he cried out where he dangled.

The great leech flew slightly below and to one side. Jump! he advised, passing directly underneath. Shaithis made to leap for his ancestor's flyer... was thrown off course as for the third time Harry's warrior crashed down on to his mount's back, breaking it. And tumbling past Shaitan, Shaithis found himself in free fall.

It was a while since Shaithis had flown in his own right, but he was in fine fettle and had more than sufficient height. His loose clothes ripped as he flattened himself into a prehistoric, pterodactyl airfoil, and gradually his plummet slowed to a glide. Far to the east he spied a glowing beacon down on the boulder plain and knew it for the Gate to the hell-lands. It made a good marker and he aimed himself in that direction.

The Necroscope had lost him. A dark speck in a darker sky, Shaithis had vanished. But Shaitan remained to be dealt with. Meanwhile, that immemorial father of vampires had drawn ahead; Harry could cover the same distance in the time it took to conjure an equation. He made to do so ... and his warrior was hit from behind! The shock almost tore him loose from the plates of his mount's back. Behind him, that most monstrous warrior of all gripped his creature in crab claws and tore out great chunks of meat from the musculature of its sputtering propulsive vents. Shaitan's other creatures stayed well back to let their far more monstrous cousin get on with its work.

In the last few seconds Karen had linked minds with Harry. She saw his problems and he saw hers: the lesser warrior which Shaithis had sent after her had dispatched her fighting creature and was now closing on her flyer. To Karen, it all seemed ended. Necroscope, it's over! she sent. My mount's a weakling, already winded. There's only myself to blame, for I designed him. I'd head for the furnace lands and a golden death in the rising sun, but doubt if we'd make it. Well, at least I'll go out honourably: a gauntlet against a warrior!

Riding Karen's last creature where its mewling, slavering attacker shredded its way to him, the Necroscope looked out through Karen's eyes.

Her flyer heaved and panted where she drove it south for the great pass, for already its altitude was insufficient to carry it over the peaks. But spurting down on her from above and behind came that monster which Shaithis had ordered: Get after the woman. You know what to do! And directly down below, close to where the gash of the great pass split the mountains... that glaring light? Starside's Gate, of course; Harry would have known it at once, except this aerial view was new to him. In the next moment, turning that view red, the torn carcass of Karen's defeated warrior crashed down and burst into pieces.

And its destroyer was falling on Karen ever faster.

Harry tumbled from his doomed creature's back through a Möbius door, stepped out into the foothills rising up from Starside's portal. The Gate was a fault in the matter of the multiverse, a huge distortion in the fabric of Möbius space-time; but the Necroscope was far enough away that it had little effect. He scanned the wide mouth of the pass where the enemy warrior was playing with Karen's exhausted flyer, forcing it down. A second flyer, riderless, flapped uselessly close by: Harry's mount, which he'd ordered to stay with its mistress.

He took the Möbius route into its saddle and called to Karen: We're not done yet.

She heard him, but so did Shaithis. At the end of his long, fast glide he landed close to the Gate and reformed into his man-shape. And seeing his warrior in the sky where it menaced the flyers and their riders, he ordered it: Bring me the woman - in pieces, if that's the only way!

The warrior's response was immediate: it crashed its bulk down on to Karen's flyer and knocked her half out of the saddle. And while she reeled there and tried to recover her senses and balance both, it put out appendages with hooked claspers and snatched her up. Then, with its propulsors roaring triumphantly, the monster smashed down on the riderless flyer one last time to break its neck. And as Karen's crippled beast spun and tumbled down out of the sky into the pass, so the warrior turned back towards the boulder plain.

Good! Shaithis applauded his beast. Bring her to me.

Harry sent his mount plummeting from on high directly into the path of the warrior; ignoring him, the thing came straight on. He sent: Release her to me, directly into its small brain.

Do not! its rightful master countered his command. Knock him aside... crush him if you can!

The monster was upon Harry. Karen, held fast in its palps of chitin thorns - which pierced her flesh, holding her like a fish on a hundred hooks - could only scream as its neck arched to strike at him; while jaws like a small cave, more lethally equipped than the mouth of Tyrannosaurus rex, opened to sweep him up.

What happened next was all instinct. It was as if Fa��thor Ferenczy lived in the Necroscope yet, and whispered in his ear: When he opens his great jaws at you, go in through them! Harry knew he could never hope to cause this creature any real physical injury, not from the outside. But somewhere within that monstrous skull was a tiny brain; and somewhere inside himself, something was or still desired to be Wamphyri!

Go in through them!

Harry stood up in the saddle, stepped into the stench of the warrior's mouth as it snapped shut on him. But within that door of teeth was another conjured from his metaphysical mind. He passed through that one, too, into the Möbius Continuum... and out again within the warrior's head. Physically inside its head! Among the rude materials of its cranium, the pulsing pipes and conduits, knobs and nodules, muck and mucous membrane of its living skull!

He felt the cringing of displaced mush - the shrinking of metamorphic flesh as his body materialized to rub against raw nerve-endings and wet, spongy tissues, and the throb of plasma carrying oxygen to the small, agonized brain - then reached out with tearing, taloned vampire hands to find and fondle the central ganglion itself. And to crush it into so much pulp. Then -

- Gravity disappeared as the warrior's propulsors closed down and the thing went into free fall. And inside its head, Harry desperately sought to make room for himself and conjure a Möbius door. He needed space to work in, air to breathe; he had never before attempted a door underwater or surrounded by viscous solids - namely hot blood - but now he must. Must conjure a door; get out of here; rescue Karen from this dead thing's claw before it hit the ground.

But even as Möbius maths commenced mutating on the screen of the Necroscope's mind, so he saw how alien -how inescapably wrong - it was! The door pulsed and vibrated but wouldn't firm into being. Instead, its energies fastened upon the region of space on the perimeter of its matrix and violently reshaped it; and common matter, displaced from its natural shape and form, flowed like magmass in the moment before the aborted door exploded into nothingness!

Shaithis saw his creature tumbling to earth and for a moment thought it must fall into the Gate. Astonished, he saw its armoured head warp and melt and burst open even before it crashed down only a few paces from the dimensional portal! And as it hit, he saw something manlike - but red, yellow, and slime-grey - vomited from the shattered skull and hurled out on to the boulder plain. As the dust settled and the last gobs of slime and plasma arced down to slop among the rocks and the dirt, so he went forward.

Shielding his eyes against the glare, he stepped wonderingly among the debris of his warrior and gazed on the Lady Karen, bruised and bleeding and unconscious in the thing's claspers; and upon the broken, disjointed hell-lander Harry Keogh, as bloody a sight as the vampire Lord ever saw. But not yet dead, no, not by a long shot.

Of course not, Shaithis thought, for he is Wamphyri! And yet... different, and hard to understand.

Indeed! Shaitan agreed, as he glided his flyer to earth. And yet that is what we must do: understand him. For his mind contains all the secrets of the Gate and the worlds beyond it. So do him no more harm but let him heal himself as best he can. And when he can answer me, then I shall question him...

Betrayed by his own talent when he attempted to materialize a Möbius door too close to the Gate, the Necroscope's metaphysical mind had taken the brunt of the shock. His flesh was vampiric and would repair itself in time, even the core of his damaged brain, but until then he must remain largely oblivious. And to some extent, perhaps he was lucky at that.

Karen, on the other hand, was not nearly so broken and by no means so lucky. While Shaitan concerned himself with Harry, his dark descendant's only thought was for Karen. Both of them sought knowledge; in the latter's case, carnal.

Shaitan's examination was telepathic. As Harry's mind healed and shards of splintered memory slowly cemented themselves together, so the Fallen One extracted what information was of value to him. Certain concepts were difficult; where a memory had been too complicated (or too painful) for detailed retention, Harry had kept it in outline only. For example: the underground complex at Perchorsk, which he'd always considered a dark, brooding fortress. His mental images of the Perchorsk Projekt were starkly monochrome; what memories he retained of the place - their mood and texture - were not unlike those of some menacing aerie; he shied from filling in details. Penny was the reason, of course, for even in his damaged condition Harry couldn't bring Perchorsk to mind without her intrusion.

But of Harry's life prior to Perchorsk, and of the world of men in general, Shaitan had gauged much. Sufficient to be sure that when he went through the Gate and invaded first the underground complex - disarming its defences and making it his impregnable fortress - and then the rest of the Necroscope's world, little would stand before him. His army of vampire servitors would spread out insidiously through all the Earth, and his dark disciples would carry his plague into every part until he reigned supreme. Even as he had sought to reign in that far dim dawn which he was not permitted to remember.

And each time Shaitan thought of that, then he would go to where Harry lay upon a Traveller blanket close to their fire, gaze on him anew and wonder where he'd seen that vaguely familiar face before. In what far land, in what dim and unremembered time, in what previous existence?

He wondered, too, about the Necroscope's strange powers, amazing powers which he alone possessed, brought with him out of an alien world. With his own ancient but trustworthy eyes, Shaitan had seen him move instantaneously from place to place - but without crossing the distance between! Yes, he had come through the Gate from the world beyond almost as if ... as if he had fallen from the one into the next. As Shaitan had once fallen? And from the same world? Possibly. Except... except Shaitan had forgotten; for they (but who?) had robbed him of all such memories.

The Necroscope's fellow men had cast him out (even as Shaitan was cast out in that time before the Wamphyri exiled him), causing him to flee here for his differences. So that in a way the father of vampires even felt a weird kinship with the Necroscope.

And when Harry's mind was repaired a little, Shaitan entered it again to ask him: Do I know you? Where have I seen you before? Are you of their order, who expelled me from my rightful place?

Harry's mind was frequently coherent in its limbo; he knew he was addressed; even knew something of the one who addressed him, and the meaning of his questions. And: No, he answered to all three.

Shaitan tried again. I have heard your thoughts. In them, you wonder about strange worlds beyond common ken. Not in the spaces between the stars, but in the spaces between the spaces! Indeed, you have access to just such an invisible space, where you move more surely and speedily than a fish in water. I, too, would move there, in the darkness which is not of the world. Show me how.

It had been the Necroscope's best-kept secret, but damaged in mind and body, he could no longer keep it. And if he should try, the Fallen One's mental hypnosis would unlock the mystery anyway. And so he showed Shaitan the computer screen of his mind, where Möbius equations at once commenced mounting in a crescendo. Shaitan saw, felt warned, was afraid.

Stop! he commanded, when the faintest pulse of a tortured Möbius door began to form out of nothing in his mind. And as the screen was wiped clean and the unformed door imploded into itself, so the great leech sighed his relief and was pleased to remove himself from Harry. For having felt the energies emanating from those equations and surrounding that door, he suspected that indeed he had known them before in a world beyond, where they'd been part and parcel of his downfall.

But now... Shaitan knew that Harry's secret place was forever beyond him, and the knowledge angered him. What, kinship? With this puling babe, this infant in dark arts, this bruised and bloodied, unblooded innocent? He must be mad even to have dreamed of it. Anyway, what did it matter that there were forbidden, invisible places? The visible ones would do for starters, and one at a time would suffice. Now that Starside had fallen, the world beyond the Gate - the Necroscope's own world - would be next. And entry into that place would be soon, before sunup.

Between times...

Shaitan knew all he needed to know from the Necroscope. Shaithis could have him now; let the so-called 'hell-lander' suffer a vampire's agonies and death, and him and all of his mystery go up in fire and smoke and so be at an end.

Such were the Fallen One's thoughts, which he allowed to go out from himself. But inside him there were deeper currents. Fit and well, this Harry Keogh had been a force. If he should live he could well become a force again -even a Power! Which was why Shaithis, if he had any vision at all, would be wise to deal with him with dispatch.

Aye, before Shaitan dealt with him in his turn.

From the Necroscope's point of view - or rather, to his traumatized perceptions - events revolved in an endless round of nausea and drifting confusion, semi-conscious agony, and a waking hell of blurred vision, haunting flashes of incomplete memories, and vivid but all too frequently meaningless bursts of input. Sometimes, while his metamorphic flesh worked hard to heal both body and brain, his mind seemed part of a morbid merry-go-round, turning on its own axis and reviewing the same scenes over and over. At others it was trapped in the mirrors of a kaleidoscope, where each scrap of coloured tinsel was a disjointed fragment of his past life or current existence.

In his more lucid moments, Harry knew that given even the best of conditions his injuries would take time in the healing; he had neither the conditions nor the time. After Shaitan gave him to Shaithis, the latter had had him crucified close to the Gate. Silver nails held him to the green timbers, and a silver spike passed through him, through his vampire and the trunk of the cross, and out the back where it was bent to one side. As fast as his Wamphyri flesh worked to repair him, so the silver poisoned him. And he guessed - no, he knew - that he wouldn't come down off this cross alive. At his feet, a bonfire of dry, broken branches confirmed it.

A second cross had been erected for Karen. Sometimes she hung there, which impaired her healing processes and kept her servile, and at others she was absent. Harry felt for her most when her cross was empty, for that was when Shaithis used and abused her. If he had the strength, the Necroscope would talk to her telepathically; except he suspected she would not let him in. No, for she would keep her torments to herself and not add to his despair. But from time to time, when Karen's cross was empty, Harry would look down on Shaithis's tent of skins and the hatred would burn in him like a fire. And then - but far too late - he would wish he'd given his vampire free rein. Perhaps mercifully, such moments of mental clarity, understanding and remorse were few and far between.

He didn't remember the arrival of the Travellers, called through the pass by Shaithis. 'Loyal' in their way to the Wamphyri, they were of a fearful, much-despised supplicant tribe of gauntlet-makers. En route here from Sunside and obedient to Shaithis's commands, they'd stolen away the women and younger men from a party of less subjugated Travellers. Also, they had been employed to build the shelters of the vampire Lords, and to cut and gather the wood for fires and crosses. Little good any of this did them; Shaithis and his monstrous ancestor served all of them alike: they brutalized and impregnated the women, vampirized the pick of the men to be their thralls and lieutenants, and fed the rest to the warriors preparatory to the invasion of the Gate.

That last was something which the Necroscope did remember: the butchery as the last of the Travellers tried to flee, and the gluttony of the warriors. Especially he remembered how Shaithis, for his amusement, had given a Traveller woman to a warrior with the parts of a man. When it was over (and apparently aroused), Shaithis had taken Karen down from her cross and into his tent. And when that was over and she was nailed up again, then he had come to gloat at the foot of Harry's cross.

'I've had my fill of your bitch, wizard,' he said with a shrug, as if in casual conversation. 'It was even my thought to lie with her in the open and let you watch, except as you've seen these beasts of mine are frisky. I had no desire to give them ideas. But the next time she comes down off her cross...ah, that will be the last time. And while you are burning - or at least until the skin of your eyes turns black and peels away - you shall see it all. Only a shame that your own agonies must detract from your enjoyment of hers!'

Then... Harry's hatred had been a greater torture than the nails and the spike together, so great that he was driven back into the darkness of oblivion. But not before he had heard the Fallen One's mind-warning to his descendant.

'Ware, Shaithis! Be advised not to drive this one too far. I fancy there's that in him which even he fails to appreciate. Something beyond his control - some weird instinctive mechanism - which works through him. Don't trigger it, my son. Even the Travellers, when they hunt and kill wild pigs, are wise enough not to taunt their prey.

But in Shaithis's secret mind was nothing but scorn. He'd lived through too many auroras just dreaming of these moments of triumph. Taunt this tame pig of a Necroscope? Oh, yes! Right to the bitter end...

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