The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Fangs for the Memory – Chapter 9
6.15 pm, Sunday 2nd November 1997
"Run!" yells Kyle.
He and Stuart start backing away towards the door, while Gino takes a rearguard position, holding back the vampires with carefully-placed squirts.
Stuart fumbles in his pocket for a lighter, and turning up the flame sets it to a small pile of books lying on an occasional table near the doorway. The vampires hiss with anger, and as Gino backs away he sees them try to avoid the flames. At once he pulls more books down out of their cases, throwing them onto the blaze, and the vampires recoil.
The three operatives clamber one after the other into the tunnel behind the painting, as far as they know the only internal way out of this vampire quarters complex, and as they jog along the tunnel discuss what to do next.
"Let's hope they don't go out in the day or we're dead men!" Kyle says. "We need to head for sunlight - what about the laboratory room? That's nice and sunny."
"And climb down that wall with angry vampires at the top? Even if they can't get out of the window, they could drop things on us," says Gino dubiously.
"Well, it's that or else the revolving fireplace room," says Stuart. "But it looks as though that fire I set will hold them up for a bit - who knows, if they don't have another way out, they might be trapped there!"
"But what if we meet the Baron?"
"We could try and kidnap him," says Stuart confidently. "That may be our best means of guaranteeing safe passage from the castle."
"I must be running along," says Kris to Dusan Prankot, as Grace leans forward eagerly to press him further. "Thank you for the tea." She leaves his house and starts to tromp towards the house that was earlier indicated to her as being the unfortunate would-be bride Credella Szolt's.
"So, with all the mining in this area, what sort of metals would you expect to be found?" asks Grace as Dusan settles back down.
"Oh, we're very well provided for ere. Iron and aluminium ores, of course, plus nickel and vanadium. Some tungsten in the southern part of the mountains. And a number of trace elements."
"Any of the rare earth metals?"
Dusan considers heavily, drinking his tea. "Hmm... I remember doing a survey once, many years ago, on the likelihood of lanthanides being found here, but what did it show? Let me see if I have the results."
He rises and goes through to his study, returning with a wodge of yellowing papers. "63... 62... ah, here we are. 1961."
Grace leans forward to peer alongside him at the carefully marshalled tables of data, written in a neat schoolboyish hand.
"Here we are... yes! There are deposits of ytterbium in the mountains right here, right under Pfaawelt, would you believe? The largest in Europe, outside Sweden of course, but not economic to extract, unfortunately - they are in the ytterbium ferric oxide form - you know?"
"This name at the top," says the sharp-eyed Grace, "Ferenc Molnar - your co-author. Who was he?"
"Molnar! That crazy Hungarian. I wonder what he's up to now. He was up at the castle, worked there with the Baron on something or other, for many years. He left here twelve years ago or more, went to Germany I think. He was a mining engineer - good man, very knowledgeable, but a little... you know, crazy, like all those Magyars are!"
"So the Baron commissioned this research? Does he have any mining interests in the area?"
"No, it was not the Baron - Molnar said it was his boss, I remember now. And I said, you mean your boss, not the Baron's boss! And he just smiled and looked at me sideways, and he said, the Baron and me, we both have the same boss. And I started to think, well Dusan my boy, better to leave this line of questioning alone, you know?" He drinks, reflectively. "As for the Baron, I don't suppose he knows two words about mining. As far as I know his family have never been involved in it."
Jeffrey continues to moan vaguely about his snaky heart and the tall man in his dream as Odorf and the vampire between them bundle him into the back of the doctor's car, which is in his garage. The vampire lies down alongside him in the back, drawing a thick blanket about them both to keep the light off, and Odorf starts to drive through the village in the direction of the castle, through the slowly melting snow.
On the way they pass Kris, who is knocking on the door of the Szolt house. It is opened by a harassed-looking woman whom she recognizes as the mother of the bride. "Yes? How can I help you?" she asks in slow, unclear English.
"I was hoping to see your daughter - I heard she wasn't well."
Mrs Szolt looks surprised. "Why does that concern you, a tourist?"
Kris thinks quickly. "I'm a counsellor," she lies. "I thought perhaps talking to me might help her with her troubles."
Mrs Szolt looks highly doubtful but shows her in with an 'I suppose it can't do any harm' attitude.
The house is much smaller and more meekly furnished than Hungis and Velmilla's place. Evidently this is the poorer branch of the family. Unopened wedding presents sit sadly on every surface. "She's upstairs," says Credella's mother quietly, returning to her rocking chair and knitting.
Kris ascends to the upper floor, trying each door in turn. In one she finds Kidu, laid out in bed asleep: he is deathly pale. The next door is locked, and as she tries it she hears a rustle within. "Credella? Are you in there?" she says.
"What's the matter? Why have you locked yourself in there?" asks Kris, feeling slightly foolish.
There is a moment's silence. Then "Wouldn't you be upset if your brother had tried to murder your fiancé?"
"Put like that it seems quite reasonable," says Kris calmly.
"And now they make all the fuss of him, like he's some big hero or something - when he has ruined my life, him and his stupidity! I can never get married now, after this shame."
"Slek! I have more pride than to go crawling back to him and beg him to forgive my family! He has the right to spit on us all after what we have done!" She starts to cry, big ragged sobs. "Rather than die an old maid I will starve to death! Then perhaps Kidu will be sorry!"
As Kris descends once more Mrs Szolt looks at her inquiringly, although not with much hope.
"We're making progress," Kris says briskly, as she heads back to the Kolnari Masza to think on the matter.
Gino leads Kyle and Stuart back through the maze of tunnels to the point where he remembers the revolving fireplace opening out, but to his surprise when he works the catch he finds himself in a different room altogether - one with an identical fireplace, but lined with suits of armour in a variety of styles from Medieval European to classical Japanese.
"That's strange," he says, scratching his head. "But there must be a way out from here, too."
Quietly the three tiptoe across the room, glancing out of its window to see the central courtyard of the castle - a number of servants are rushing to the well with buckets. It seems the fire has been noticed. They pass through a door into a long T-shaped hallway, with paintings to both sides, which Stuart thinks he remembers from the guided tour. "It's this way," he says confidently.
They are no more than half way along, though, when a trapdoor in the ceiling clatters open, and through it drop four hissing vampires. The three operatives turn and flee for the other end of the gallery, their feet clattering on the parquet floor.
As the car approaches the castle, the road safe to drive now, Jeffrey hears Dr Odorf call out something surprisedly. He thinks it included the Hungarian word for 'fire'. The vampire replies, with more than a little nervousness in his voice. The car pulls to a halt, and as the door opens Jeffrey can smell smoke.
They are in a garage once more, and the vampire and Odorf once more drag Jeffrey out - he remains limp. He is bundled into the castle, and there laid on a couch. Baron Srelt joins the vampire and Odorf as they stand over him, and they talk amongst themselves in Hungarian for a while before the Baron kneels to look into Jeffrey's eyes. "Not to worry, Reverend Fanlight! This condition you have is not serious. Here at the castle we have just the treatment for you. Why, within a matter of a few days you will be feeling better than you ever have done!"
Jeffrey moans feebly. "Then will the terrible dreams stop?"
"Yes, yes, never fear. All will be well. Now you are to be kept cool, the good Doctor Odorf has told me, so we will be taking you down to our underground rooms - do not worry, there are no rats! You will be as well looked after here as though you were my brother. And within a few days, as I say, you will have a very distinguished visitor. A very distinguished visitor indeed."
"What's that smell of fire?" asks Jeffrey curiously. It is unmistakable now he is inside the castle itself.
"Nothing, nothing. A minor accident with some lit matches. So careless! And all these old, dry books... my staff are dealing with it now. We are in no danger, never fear."
"I do hope nothing valuable has been damaged."
"No, no, just some old books, as I say... and no-one ever reads them any more anyway! Now don't over-exert yourself, Reverend, you will need all your strength. Here, see, we have a bath-chair for you. If you will just climb in, we can escort you to your new quarters."
Grace and Kris arrive back at the guesthouse to find a search party is being organized for Amanda. Paul is eagerly marshalling Anne, Mike and Ferdinand, together with Tomas and a couple of the other staff.
"We should take a pair of her shoes with us," says Grace. "I'll get them."
Upstairs she is able to ascertain that Amanda's bed appears to have been slept in last night. As she shares a room with Anne, though, Anne might have made it appear that way. Grace takes a pair of each woman's shoes and checks the sizes.
The whole group, led by Tomas and the other locals, heads off up into the trees to search for the missing Amanda.
Kyle takes the lead as the three fugitives, vampires hard on their heels, charge down a flight of stairs. He runs smack into a terrified servant carrying a large silver tray - crockery and glasses go everywhere, smashing against the walls, a solitary plate wobbling away on its edge. Both servant and Kyle sprawl to the floor, but Gino nimbly dodges the tray and scoops the Scotsman up with a hand under his arm. A cry of rage comes from behind them as they emerge into the main entrance hall - through its open door is streaming sunlight.
"Run, run, run!" wheezes Kyle as they pile out through the doorway, into another nest of shocked servants. Doctor Odorf's car is there, and Stuart has the presence of mind to leap in, dragging the other two with him. He guns the engine and reverses rapidly through the gates, scattering servants like pigeons.
As the car swerves into a handbrake turn and roars out into the road, Gino glances back to see the Baron standing in the gateway, one hand to his chin, gazing thoughtfully after them.
Jeffrey is carefully wheeled down several flights of stairs, swaddled up like an invalid. Periodically he whispers about his dream again. The area into which he is heading is ancient and damp-smelling, and he can faintly hear the chug-chug of machinery deep underground. He is taken to a small room off a short corridor, which although stone walled and floored is reasonably furnished, with a comfortable bed in which he is laid. He is given a small bell, and the servant who has wheeled him down - a huge hulk of a man - says "If you need help, ring bell - I will be out here in hall, yes? My name is Hans."
Jeffrey lies down meekly. As Hans tucks him in, another bell tinkles from across the corridor. A voice cries feebly "Hans? Hans? Could I have some water, please?" It is Brian Lewis's.
An hour or so of combing the pine woods is fruitless, but eventually Paul's periodic shout is answered. Amanda traipses down towards them from up above - she must have been at the very ridge of the valley. "Hullo! What are you all doing, wandering about like this?"
"We were looking for you," says Mike Richards accusingly.
"Goodness! I just went for a walk - there's no need to send out search parties! I am a grown woman, you know!"
Everyone looks rather disappointed.
"Isn't it lovely up here? I went up to the top, and you can see into the next valley - beautiful! You can even see Kwell Tower, off in the distance."
"Did you find any werewolves?" asks Ferdinand curiously.
"No, not really, but I did find these!" She hands over a plastic bag containing three of what look like large dog turds. "Wolf spoor!"
On the way back down, Kris asks "So how was Fangs for the Memory set up, Paul? Were any of the locals involved?"
"Well, I don't know too much about it - I wasn't in it at the beginning, I was pretty much the last person they hired - but I think the Baron here, Baron Srelt, who you met, was involved. He's very keen to promote the local tourist industry."
"It must be strange working for a small business like this."
"Yes, well, fortunately I'm not involved in the management side at all - the finances! They always seem to have plenty of money, though, that's for sure. Not that my salary dents the profits much! But they're interesting people, the couple that run it, the Albrights. They know this part of Europe like the backs of their hands, I can tell you - all over, they've been."
"Is it just them?"
"Pretty much - well, there's a few admin juniors back in London, but they turn over pretty quickly - getting married and such like!" He laughs heartily. "But the Albrights, Dave and Sheila, they're pretty much the whole brains behind the affair - when they say jump, we all jump!"
Stuart ditches Dr Odorf's car at the edge of the village, and he, Kyle and Gino continue on foot to the Kolnari Masza. They were not followed, as far as he could see: although, as there is only one way to go, that is unlikely to mean a great deal in terms of evading eventual pursuit.
They find Grace, Kris and Ferdinand discussing Jeffrey's absence. "Marta said he said he was feeling faint," says Ferdinand. "Perhaps one of us should go to the doctor's surgery and find out what's happened to him."
"I reckon he's been snatched, like Brian," says Stuart darkly. "Next time we go to raid the castle, we'll have to look for him too." He looks at Kyle. "Perhaps you should guard the rear if we go underground, Kyle."
Kyle shudders involuntarily.
Grace is peering at him curiously. "Is there something wrong, Kyle? You seem to have some sort of problem with tunnels - have you had a bad experience in the past? Would you like to talk to me about it?"
Kyle is keener to describe the fight than talk about his background. "What a scrap," he grins, waving an empty squeezy bottle. "One's dead for sure, nice work Gino, the others are looking for some serious plastic surgery - not before they try a bit of revenge on us though!" He rubs his chin, "Funny, I don't remember them smacking me in the gob!"
Stuart has handed Grace the laboratory notebooks and star charts. Much to her surprise, she does not recognize the language used at all. It seems to have grammatical elements in common with a number of dead tongues: Egyptian, Sumerian, and the ancient Polynesian languages. "This will need some serious extended study," she says to herself, pleased to have found an intellectual puzzle. She would like to be able to email copies to some of her colleagues, but without a scanner this is not possible.
"They're not gonna be very happy with us," says Kyle, pulling at a bottle of Pilsner Urquell. "It might be time to leave, and right now! Staying in the hotel with a room full of people isn't gonna help us, you saw what happened last time - what say we commandeer the bus and take it to the airport?"
"It's either that or a raid on the castle, to rescue Jeffrey," says Stuart.
"Or we could wait here for them to come to us," puts in Gino. "But we need to make a decision. Anyway, will the road be clear? Paul said we could move out in the morning, but what'll it be like now?"
"Yes, we can't leave without Jeffrey," admits Kyle. "And there's Brian, somewhere."
Ferdinand reports that at Kris's suggestion he has left his details at the Berkeley Dream Interpretation Machine, as requested by their Web site: he has given a SITU front address. With any luck there will be a package waiting for him when they return to the UK.
Kris puts through a phone call to Imperial and asks Clive Bramley about the white powder the others found in the generator. "It looks like the same white powder: and it's being combusted in an internal chamber."
"No, Kris, you must be wrong there. That wouldn't make any sense at all. There's no way you're going to get an exothermic reaction out of combusting any of those rare earth salts. Either it's a different white powder, or else they're using a nuclear reaction, not a chemical one! Your friends didn't take a Geiger reading, did they?" He laughs heartily.
Kyle glances at his watch and tuts, "Och, what am I thinking of. Siobhan'll be back from Sunday school. I'll give a wee call." The hotel phone is still out, so he takes Ferdinand's mobile from Kris.
Much embarrassing cooing ensues. Siobhan has nothing of any relevance to report, although Kyle seems a good deal more cheerful afterwards. "This is like being in a Western, isn't it?" he remarks, looking out at the gathering darkness. "The men, women and children tool up ready for the unseen enemy!"
"More like From Dusk Till Dawn," mutters Stuart uneasily. He has refilled everyone's bottles with garlic water.
Kris goes upstairs to visit Janice Richards, who is lying in bed with the curtains drawn. She moans as Kris enters, but seems relieved to see her rather than Mike.
"What's wrong, Janice?" asks Kris.
"Oh, I don't know, I'm just sick of this God-awful place. I feel sick, I've got a headache, I'm sure I've got a fever, this air is so... stifling... I just want to be back at home. Don't you? Instead of stuck out here at the arse-end of nowhere!"
"Have you been having any strange dreams?"
Janice becomes animated. "Yes, I had a brilliant one last night. It was a bit rude, actually." She glances sideways at Kris. "You know your friend, the dishy one, Mr Ferrocco. He was in it. Don't you think he looks like that guy, oo, what's his name, in that French film where they're a couple who live on the beach, and she pokes her eye out at the end... anyway, I woke up just as it was getting to the good bit, of course, thanks to Mike snoring away." Her face twists in annoyance. "I swear, if it wasn't for the baby I'd not put up with him for a minute longer. Nothing will suit him now but he's got to find a vampire and drive a stake through its heart. Why can't he just be normal, like ordinary people, instead of having all these stupid ideas? When we first knew each other I thought it was a put-on, like a joke, just pretending to be silly. I didn't realize he was deadly serious about it all until it was too late!"
Grace asks Tomas, who is getting dinner ready, "Do you know anything about the order of St Stanislas, Tomas?"
He pauses, thinking. "Is an order of knights - yes? Very old. They protected us from the Turks, in the old days."
"I saw the Baron is a member."
"Oh, yes, of course. Well, have you seen any Turks in the village?" He chuckles. "I think he inherited it from his family, you see. Since the revolution, when the kings were thrown out, the old aristocrats kept on these titles. Officially he is just Citizen Srelt, like you or me. But no-one is going to argue with him calling himself Baron, when he lives in the castle his ancestors built a thousand years ago! I do not think these knights of St Stanislas do very much these days - probably a dinner in Budapest every year and give money to the poor orphans."
"I think one of us should go to the doctor's place," says Kris. "Does anyone want to feign to be ill? Or we could be taking Janice."
"I doubt if she'll want to be dragged half way across the village in the cold," says Ferdinand.
"Whoever goes with them could take plenty of anti-vampire kit. I'll bring my assegai, under my coat," says Grace.
"And some matches!" says Stuart happily.
Kyle, who has been looking rather absent, remarks. "Shame we didn't go into the dungeons at the castle. Mind you," he adds with a brief shiver and a gulp of Newcastle Brown, "you find the strangest things underground."
9.30 pm, Sunday 2nd November 1997
Jeffrey at the Castle Cnoiff
Everyone else at the Kolnari Masza