The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Fangs for the Memory – Chapter 8
2.30 pm, Sunday 2nd November 1997
Kris, tired of watching Ferdinand trying to find stuff on the poorly-organised Web over a mobile phone link, places a call to her colleagues at Imperial College. She asks for her metallurgist friend Clive Bramley, and described Kyle's findings to him. "Any guess at the metal which is being refined?"
Clive hums and hahs a little. "Difficult to say without seeing the kit myself. Sounds like it's probably one of the rare earths, though - a lanthanide, I should think. There's a few of them with very similar chemical properties: dysprosium, holmium, terbium, ytterbium, lutetium... any chance you could send me a sample?"
Kris promises to bring some of the powders back with her. "And do you know anything about an equipment company called Klein und Klein GmbH?"
"The generator people? Small company, based in Heidelberg - privately owned, I think. We've bought a couple of things off them - small, custom pieces. They have a good name for quality, but they don't do a whole lot of business. Specialized market."
Up at the castle, Kyle, Stuart and Gino are gazing down thoughtfully.
"My vote is to go in now," says Kyle. "At least if it comes down to a fight, we can throw open a window and watch 'em fry!"
Stuart agrees. "But we should try to attract as little attention as possible."
"One thing's for sure, caution is more important this time with all the light and people around," says Kyle.
Gino stands up and says "My feeling is that we should go back into the tower that seemed nearest to the dungeonoid wailing, try and sneak up to it and get in - Brian is not unlikely to be there."
"Yes, the deeper underground the more likely," agrees Stuart.
"And I want to explore the passage running beyond the mineralogy lab and the staircase up and down from the lab," says Kyle. "Better make sure we make a flying visit to the casket chamber. If they're having a kip, we give a face wash with our squeezy bottles."
Gino nods firmly, but Stuart seems a little reluctant to add his agreement. "That's not what I came here to do," he mutters nervously, patting his inner pocket again just in case.
Kyle too pats his pockets as the party sets off for the castle. In one pocket is a fistful of garlic and a squeezy of garlic water. In the other are some of the samples taken from the lab. "While we're giving them a facial with new improved Fairy, I'm a wondering if the white stuff is the 'opposite' of the black stuff. Kinda Hammer horror clichéd but I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. Am I right?"
At the Szolt house, Jeffrey thanks Velmilla enthusiastically for her kind offer of coffee. He enquires after the health and well-being of Kidu and his sister after the unfortunate events at the wedding.
"Oh," sighs Velmilla, coffee cup and marzipan fancy trembling in her hand as she clutches the other to her bosom, "Kidu will live, thank the good Lord who watches over us all. But dear Credella has locked herself in her room, she says she will not speak with any of the family. Her mother is very worried about her - she has not eaten since the wedding breakfast yesterday morning!"
"I understand young Kidu's life was saved by the heroic efforts of Doctor Odorf," Jeffrey comments.
Velmilla nods sadly. "I know little of these medical affairs, but the doctor told us how hard he had worked to save Kidu - I hope he is grateful! We will say a special Mass for good Doctor Odorf tomorrow evening, we Szolts." Jeffrey is trying to gauge her reaction to the mention of the doctor's name - could it be almost sympathy?
"He has also been treating my fellow tourist Mr Lewis, though with rather less success, I'm afraid," says Jeffrey. "Poor Mr Lewis has been shipped out to Klausenburg for an expert opinion - so we hear. It must have been urgent, for we didn't even have time to bid him farewell."
"Oh yes, we heard about him, the poor gentleman. What a shame! To spoil a lovely holiday with illness."
"You know," Jeffrey sighs, sadly, "I think this trip was jinxed from the start. 'Fangs for the Memory' seems to have brought nothing but misery for everyone involved - and for the village, too. Those unfortunate events at the wedding, Mr Lewis's illness, the bad weather, the break-in at the guest house and the injuries to my friends - and now Mr Snak the blacksmith has been assaulted by unknown miscreants! Tell me, Mrs Szolt - you must have seen a few tour parties pass through the village. Have any of them brought such bad luck in their wake?"
Velmilla looks a little agitated at the mention of the break-in. "Oh, dear Reverend, this is Rumania, you know - we are not as civilized as you people in England! These things happen here. As for that Snak character, he is nothing but a troublemaker - always speaking up against the Baron. No doubt it was the Baron's people who taught him a good lesson! But the other tourists - none have had such troubles, no. There have been many tourists fall ill, though, like your Mr Lewis - I suppose it must be the water, or the cold, or something. Not every tour, but perhaps every five or six tours."
"What?" exclaims Jeffrey excitedly. "Every five tours that come here someone falls ill?"
"I think so," muses Velmilla. "You English are not as hardy as we people of the mountains here."
Kyle, Stuart and Gino skirt the castle under cover of the trees and make for the southernmost tower, which holds the laboratory.
There are occasional servants bustling about the interior of the castle, but none seem to be patrolling the outside walls and they have a much easier climb of it up to a suitable window than was possible last time, in the freezing dark. Stuart proves to have little aptitude for the sport, though, and pulls himself up more or less through brute force and ignorance.
They clamber through into the laboratory, which is exactly as before: it doesn't look as though anyone has been in here at all this morning.
"Let's stick to the previous thing of having one of us always with an eye on the door or nearest entrance," says Gino. "The dungeons were in the lower levels, so probably won't be accessible via a window."
Kyle ha another look at the generator. The driving end of it is unremarkable, but the fuel end is very strange indeed. There is a small inlet which has traces around it of the white powder he has found elsewhere in the lab. This feeds through into a combustion chamber which drives a small steam turbine. The walls of the combustion chamber are highly refractory, indicating great temperatures, and the amounts of powder involved are very small. He would like to take the whole thing apart to find out more, but that would demand considerable leisure (and a toolkit). This suggests to him that there is probably little point trying to use the white powder as a weapon.
Stuart busies himself looking for experimental notes: the lab is fairly tidy and there is no paperwork lying around the place, but eventually Gino points him to a drawer under the main workbench. Stuart pulls out a notebook full of what appears to be tabulated data: it is written in some strange language, though, with a script quite different to any with which he is familiar: it looks like odd-shaped cursive squiggles.
Kyle opens the door cautiously once more, and passes through into a short corridor. From it open a bathroom and a small bedroom. They look rather hotel-like: extremely tidy, with no personal effects present. It looks as though the suite is used only rarely, or at least intermittently.
The other door opens onto a stairway that leads both up and down. Leaving Gino to keep lookout, Kyle and Stuart cautiously ascend, both with their hands on their squeezy bottles. Occasional shafts of light break through gaps in the stone to illuminate the ancient stairs, and the footing is good: elsewhere in the castle stair treads have tended to be worn down through centuries of passage, but here they are much less used. There is a smell of old, damp stone.
The stairs make two full turns, rising well above the level of the ceiling of the laboratory, and emerge into the top of the tower, which is all one big room. It is furnished as a stellar observatory, with a winch to open the roof, a large reflecting telescope (with a seat attached) and a smaller reflecting one, and a host of other optical instruments of whose purpose Stuart and Kyle are uncertain. All is quiet and still, and there is no sign of the room having been used recently. All the equipment is from the middle years of this century, rather than being new like that in the metallurgy lab.
Stuart looks around for paperwork, and finds tucked into the side of the chair a set of notes, more tables of what must be figures. They are in the same strange language. There are also some hand-drawn star diagrams. He stuffs everything into his jacket as before.
Ferdinand, tapping away happily on his computer in the bar, is approached by a worried-looking Paul Crab. "Ferdinand, have you seen Amanda around by any chance? Anne says she's not seen her all day, and there's some paperwork I need from her."
Ferdinand searches his memory. "I think I saw her going out quite early on," he says.
"Oh well, I suppose she'll turn up - if you see her again, would you mind telling her I need her? Thanks!" Paul bustles off.
Kris trudges her way through the snow, which at last appears to be melting in the weak winter sunlight, towards the smithy. She knocks on the door and is admitted by Krist's mother.
Without much ceremony she introduces herself and marches in to see Krist, who is sitting up in bed munching some toast and drinking coffee with his good arm. He does not appear surprised to see her.
"Mr Snak, I want you to tell me whatever you can about this curse business."
He shudders theatrically. "Sometimes it is better not to know these things, miss."
Kris leans forward, fixing him with her gaze. He pales slightly. "Mr Snak, I don't want you to mess me about. I've seen things which are... stranger... than you might think."
The blacksmith nods slowly. "Yes, I can see it in your face - you have the look of what we call a tulnagi, a person who has been driven to commit acts which would disgust and horrify normal people!"
Kris, wincing, nods wearily.
"I am trying to avoid becoming a tulnagi myself, even though I feel it is my destiny," confides Krist. "My mother would not like it." He looks across the room to check that the door is shut. "Come closer." Kris leans forward until her face is only a few inches from his, and he sprays her with a fine mist of toast crumbs as he talks. "The curse is that of what you people call the vampyr, the leech who feeds on honest people like a parasite, contaminating all with his evil - that is the curse your friend Brian was born to. Some people have the taint in their blood from the start, and then the vrlock can awaken it in them - then they become his servants!"
"You say 'his' - is there only one? We saw five..."
"There is only one arch-vrlock, the master fiend of all. The others, those who you have seen, the one who did this to me, they are lesser creatures. Much greater than we humans, but much less than him. As the angels are to God, or the fiends to Satan, they to him. Only he can awaken the people who bear the curse: the others act as his tools."
"Is it the Baron, this arch-vampire?"
"No!" Krist laughs sharply and humourlessly, then looks round in fear. "The Baron is an ordinary man like you and I. Thus he is a useful servant as well. No, the master I have never seen, nor ever will, I hope - for surely he must outweigh those his servants in evil and horror as far as they do we mortals!"
"Does he live in the castle?"
"That is where they took your friend Brian, is it not?"
Grace, who is a little concerned about all the action going on, fears that a big confrontation may result - one which the SITU team are likely to lose.
She spends the rest of the morning gathering together warm clothing for each member of the group, and she buys a tarpaulin to sleep under and a stock of Szeged Mint Cake. She stashes all this in one of the guesthouse's outbuildings, where she has already spotted several pairs of skis and snowshoes, which will come in handy if the road is still blocked at the point the operatives try to flee.
The three investigators progress together down the stairs, which start off as a straightforward spiral but after a couple of turns start to wind about unpredictably. Kyle guesses that they are approaching the ground level of the castle: there is no light, and they have to use torches.
The staircase opens out into what is clearly a cellar complex. There is a faint breath of wind moving past the three's faces, which carries a smell of rot. Kyle starts to feel rather uneasy, and he sticks close to Gino, who exudes an air of reassurance. Stuart is leading the way, sure that down here is where any prisoners will be held. Indeed, it does have rather the appearance of a dungeon. There are dense cobwebs all over the place, and their footsteps are muffled by thick dust.
More steps lead downwards, into what seems like even darker gloom, and suddenly Gino holds up his hand for silence. Kyle, straining his hearing, can also hear it - a faint moaning. But deep underneath that, deep underneath the ground below them, he can hear another noise - the thud and chug of mining equipment. And there is a faint smell, a cold smell he has smelt once before.
To Stuart and Gino it appears that Kyle freezes to the spot, his hands clutching, his eyes staring at nothing.
...in the room full of cylinders their pale metal glistening gleaming the thud of the equipment behind him the smell of something strange something not right something that doesn't belong wafting forth from the cylinders the gleaming cylinders the chugging noise beating in his ears the cold biting his hands his hands reaching out to touch the smell the feeling the strange cold feeling that doesn't belong the lid his hands opening turning the lid the cold lid the smell stronger THE SHAPE WITHIN MOVING UNFOLDING REACHING OUT...
Kyle emits a spine-chilling scream, his hands scrabbling at the air as though to ward something invisible off, his eyes staring and drool running from his mouth. As Gino reaches out to him, he spins round and starts to run, unaware of where he is going, bouncing off the walls, in the direction from which they came, still screaming his head off.
At this horrifying sight Gino's nerve, none too steady at the best of times, cracks, and he too turns and runs, calling to Stuart "Come on! We've got to catch him before he hurts himself!" There is a quaver in his voice.
Stuart, who was standing poised to investigate the lower depths, worried that Kyle's racket will attract attention, realizes that he cannot continue alone, and rushes back after the others. He is not at all certain that his companions are coping very well with the situation.
Kris and Jeffrey meet up in the street, and relate to each other what they have learnt. They return to the Kolnari Masza and confer with Grace and Ferdinand over tea.
Jeffrey mentions to Grace that she add to her notes about their findings the fact that vampires appear to be able to fly. "That would account for the flight of so-called giant bats we saw circling the castle towers on our food-parcel run," he says.
Grace looks a little doubtful, but then she didn't see the bats herself. "One concerning piece of information," she says, "is that from the surgery. 'Vampire' footprints leading in, but not out? Does that mean that it was or is still there? Does it sleep there? Is the doctor the vampire? He doesn't give that impression. Perhaps it flew away: but then why walk there? I think we should 'stake out' the doctor's house, if people will pardon the expression."
"I've just had an even more worrying thought than that..." declares Jeffrey. "We know that it was the Baron who first encouraged tourism here. Well, what if he did so just to gain access to people like Mr Lewis? From what we've heard, very few people are susceptible to becoming vampires, but maybe those people are more likely than most to be interested in such things and so are more likely to come to Transylvania? Mr Lewis arrives, falls ill under the vampires' malign influence, Doctor Odorf tells the Baron and has Mr Lewis moved to a ground floor room from where he can be more easily kidnapped... It all makes sense!"
He pauses, his fears growing worse. "What if the entire raison d'être of 'Fangs for the Memory' is to lure potential victims to Pfaawelt? Why, those five vampire servants might have started out as tourists like Mr Lewis. And if 'Fangs for the Memory' is a scheme of the Baron's, maybe Paul Crab is his agent..." He shudders, and turns to Ferdinand. "We must find out more... is there any way you could use your Interweb to find out more information about the 'Fangs for the Memory' company? How many employees it has, when and by whom it was founded - that sort of thing? And what about past tour party members? Did they all make it back alive?" he adds, darkly.
At this point Paul wanders into the bar, deep in conversation with Mike, who for once has a serious expression on. "Ah, here's some more. All well today? The road's clearing, apparently: looks like we should be able to make it out tomorrow. Assuming Amanda turns up by then! Then it's on to Kwell Tower. We've lost a bit of time, but we should be able to catch it up, don't you worry - you won't be missing anything!" His usual cheer seems a little forced.
Mike slumps down in a chair by Ferdinand. His face is drawn. "Are you all right?" Ferdinand inquires anxiously.
"Oh, it's Janice, the love. She's not very well - all that disturbance in the night. I'm a bit worried about her, to be honest. She just doesn't seem to be enjoying this trip as much as I'd thought she would." He sighs. "Women! No offence," he hastily adds, catching Kris's and Grace's gazes.
"Mike," says Jeffrey, "might I possibly trouble you for the loan of your bottle of holy water from Worcester Cathedral?"
"What - off vampire-hunting, and not inviting me?" says Mike, joshingly. He reaches into his pocket and hands Jeffrey the bottle.
Stuart and Gino do not catch Kyle until the laboratory, where he is struggling with the window. Stuart, recognizing a desperate situation, slaps Kyle hard around the face, knocking him away from the opening.
Kyle's blank look fades, and his mouth returns to a more normal shape. He rubs his jaw puzzledly. He has no recollection of what has just happened.
"Why don't we go and find that room with all the coffins," says Gino, catching Stuart's eye over Kyle's head.
"Yes!" says Kyle enthusiastically. "We can see if it really does make your hands as soft as your face!"
They clamber up through the trapdoor, Stuart leading and Gino keeping close behind Kyle. Kyle seems to have no problem with these above-ground tunnels, fortunately.
They retrace the path of last night in reverse, and after a little while as predicted they reach the chink in the wall through which Gino glimpsed Baron Srelt talking into the phone. They can see the room clearly, and although the baron is not there his phone is visible on a red leather ottoman. But there is no way of accessing the room from this passageway: it looks as though it can only be reached from the orthodox part of the castle. As they watch, a servant comes into the room and takes away a small tray of coffee things.
Ferdinand hooks up to the Web again and searches for Fangs for the Memory. He finds that they have no Web presence at all. Also at Jeffrey's suggestion he looks for information on the order of chivalry to which they guess the Baron to belong, from his sash and sword: as far as he can guess, it is the Order of Saint Stanislas, an imitation of the Teutonic Knights which was founded in sixteenth-century Hungary to protect the realm from the depredations of the Turks (with very little success).
Jeffrey has phoned SITU to get them to investigate Fangs for the Memory as well, and then he heads off towards the doctor's surgery.
Kris and Grace head towards the church. They easily identify the brown house next to it, and knocking on the door are greeted by a balding, cheerful middle-aged man with a large belly barely constrained by tatty canvas jeans.
Grace introduces herself, and starts to talk to Dusan Prankot (for it is he) about the mining history of the area. Fortunately her profession means that she is used to interviewing people about areas of expertise she does not share, so she is able to keep him going with intelligent questions, and he seems flattered by the attention.
Within an hour or so both women know far more than they ever wanted to about Transylvanian mining techniques.
Carefully and quietly, their torch beams piercing the dark, the three SITU operatives make their way into the chamber where the five caskets lie. Gino looks around for curtains to fling open, but there are none: there are no windows on this level.
Kyle lays his hands softly on one of the casket lids while Gino reaches into his pocket: Stuart is relieved to see him pull out a stake rather than the silver knife. Stuart himself readies his squeezy bottle.
As Kyle lifts the lid clear, his torch reveals laid in the casket a vampire, not one of those who attacked the guesthouse. He is laying on his back, his arms folded on his chest, with a look of peaceful relaxation. He is completely bedded in the curious black earth, as though someone is trying to propagate him.
Gino, breathing heavily, the light of vengeance burning in his eye, lifts his stake with both hands and sharply drives it down into the vampire's heart.
At once there is utter chaos. The vampire bursts into a mighty snarl, his lips drawing back from his fangs and his eyes glowing redly. His limbs convulse, first scattering black earth all over the place and then smashing through the sides of the casket. He makes frantic efforts to claw for Gino, who has all his weight on the stake. Kyle and Stuart squirt the vampire frantically with garlic water, but although it burns where it touches his skin it seems to discommode him only marginally compared with the stake.
Kyle, panting with excitement and squeezing away madly, says "Fairy Liquid cleans out more vampires than my ordinary washing up liquid!"
As the vampire's struggles slowly ebb, Gino grimacing as he wiggles the stake around, there is a clattering noise as two of the other lids fall to the ground. From the caskets rise two more vampires, their faces contorted in fury.
After about half an hour, Doctor Odorf leaves the surgery, pulling on his coat, his black bag tucked under one arm. Jeffrey, offering up a quick word to God explaining his motives, nips inside.
He heads for the consulting room itself, moving awkwardly through the strange house, and starts to open drawers. It does not take long to find the records of Brian Lewis's treatment, but they are far from revealing. All the other case notes he has seen have had paragraphs and paragraphs of writing, describing consultations given and treatments prescribed, but this file just has two words in Hungarian: 'Temarsi maklunai'.
Looking through the drawer, among all the ordinary medical records there are half a dozen other files that have just this simple two-word notation, going back over the past twelve years. All are for people with English names.
Jeffrey is also looking for signs of vampiric activity in the surgery, but apart from a couple of bags of blood plasma in the refrigerator there is nothing too obviously suggestive. He is just about to head for the stairs to search the rest of the house when he hears the front door.
He quickly slips back into the waiting room, shutting the surgery door quietly behind him, and as the surprised Doctor Odorf enters he stumbles dazedly towards a chair.
Odorf steps quickly to take his arm, and Jeffrey mops at his brow, his eyes rolling. "Doctor, I... feel really strange... faint... urggh." He slumps to the floor.
Anne enters the bar, looking very worried. "Oh, Ferdinand, you haven't seen Amanda, have you? I'm getting a bit worried about her... last night she said she was thinking about going up into the woods to look for werewolves, just as a joke, you don't suppose she really would have, do you?"
Gino yells to Kyle and Stuart to hold the vampires off, while he whips out his syringe and starts to draw blood from the staked one, who is now motionless. Kyle leaps in, squirting garlic water as though his bottle was bottomless, and is satisfied to see the female vampire with the cane recoil as a jet strikes her face. Stuart is cool-headed enough to note with surprise quite how adeptly Gino is taking the blood: another skill one might not necessarily expect a lawyer to possess. He is conserving his ammunition, seeing another casket lid start to move.
"Look pal, I've seen other-worldly people before, so your dental problems aren't about to freak me out," snarls Kyle.
As Gino rises from the first vampire, who now resembles a conventional corpse, with a syringe of blood, he sees that the third vampire is moving to outflank Stuart. He also sees that Kyle's squeezy bottle is empty, although the Scotsman has not yet realized this. He has a full bottle himself, but Stuart cannot have much left. It will be very difficult to stake the vampires who are up and moving: as he starts to fire, he sees one of them strike the empty bottle from Kyle's hand. Kyle pulls out a bulb of garlic as the three vampires, their eyes blazing and their fangs bared, all bearing the scars of garlic burns across faces and hands, advance on the team.
He judges that flight, with the evidence they have gathered so far, would probably be wise.
Jeffrey comes round to find himself laid on a couch. He mutters "Dark man... calling me... snakey heart... come to me, come to me, he says..."
Dr Odorf is bent over him with a frightened look in his eyes, and just at that point the surgery door opens. The doctor whirls round, and Jeffery can see that entering the room is one of the five vampires, a look of curiosity on his face. Odorf babbles something in Hungarian, gesturing at Jeffrey, and the vampire, a pleased look on his face, rubs his hands satisfiedly.
6.15 pm, Sunday 2nd November 1997
Jeffrey at the surgery
Ferdinand at the Kolnari Masza
Kris and Grace at Dusan Prankot's house
Kyle, Stuart and Gino at the Castle Cnoiff