The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Fangs for the Memory – Chapter 10
9.30 pm, Sunday 2nd November 1997
Evening finds the SITU operatives at the Kolnari Masza in something of a state of turmoil.
"Looks like it's either all-out war or running away," says Kris resignedly.
"I think we should definitely try to find Jeffrey," says Ferdinand. "We can't just leave him here and flee." He starts to trace diagrams on the tablecloth.
"I have a suggestion," says Gino. "Possibly we should kidnap the doctor, and leave me alone with him, so I can cross-question him in my fierce legal manner."
Something in the way he says 'legal' carries an air of infinite menace.
"How about myself and anyone else who is strong follow him," he continues, "grab him at an opportune moment, and abduct him off to a remote bit of countryside whilst heavily armed - and find out what exactly is in store for Jeffrey and Brian."
"I'm up for that, if we're armed and a numerous enough group," says Kyle, "but a confrontation on what might be vampire territory makes me eager to return to the hotel - which might give us a better chance."
"I don't think it would be a good idea to lure him to the hotel on the basis of us being unwell," says Gino, "because I guess he would fall for that - not."
Everyone else looks at him in puzzlement before working out what he means.
"I am just going to have food now," says the friendly Hans, "but if you ring the bell I will still hear you!"
Jeffrey waits until his footsteps have climbed the first flight of stairs before hissing "Psst! Brian! It's Jeffrey Fanlight!"
A moment passes before Brian Lewis hisses back "The vicar? What are you doing here?"
"I was captured too!"
Another pause. "I wasn't captured - the doctor sent me here for treatment." Brian sounds puzzled.
"But what sort of treatment do you think you're going to get, eh?" asks Jeffrey in a voice laden with sinister sibilant overtones.
"What do you mean?"
"I can see I have some explaining to do..."
Kyle and Ferdinand are left in the bar together. Ferdinand busies himself with an old bicycle he found in one of the sheds, a couple of bungees, and a hacksaw he has borrowed from Tomas.
"I've been wondering about all the black and white minerals back at the castle," muses Kyle. "When I was doing my mining geology I remember doing rare earths. I think ytterbium reacts with water to make hydrogen - not quickly mind ye. I wonder if that's what runs the lab at the castle. I'm sure it's devilishly difficult to separate the rare earths from each other though. I suppose that's what the lab's for."
Ferdinand whistles tunelessly through his teeth, trying the struts of the disassembled bicycle up against each other for size.
"And another thing, all this Egyptian and Sumerian notes in a modern book. Whoever wrote that is either a scholar in archaeology or has lived for a few thousand years - do ye think it was one of the vampires we saw today? My money is on the theory that the vampires we met are servants and the chief vampire is someone we haven't met yet - or some one so obvious that we don't see him. What about the doctor for example?"
The bungees pluck with a satisfying twang as Ferdinand attaches them to the pedal assembly.
Kyle voices what has been troubling him. "If it's a plan ye want I'd say we should stay here. Going out in the dark up the castle will be suicide at night. They'll be out and about at this time. They could be watching us right now, ready to pick us off before we leave the edge of the village. And don't count on the villagers for help neither."
"No, I don't suppose there's much chance of rousing an angry peasant mob to storm up the hill with torches," says Grace, who has come back into the bar.
She dodges sharply to one side as Ferdinand releases the trigger, the bungees snap taut, the winding pedals whirr round and a small pine stake hurtles across the room, splintering at its end as it strikes the wall. He looks rather pleased with himself.
"...so you see, we must get out of this place as soon as possible - before it's too late," says Jeffrey, who has explained the entire vampire situation to Brian.
"I see what you mean," says Brian with remarkable sang-froid. "I'm none too keen to be turned into a bloodsucking creature of the night, so - any ideas?"
"I'm afraid we're going to have to overpower Hans on his return, much as I regret the necessity for violence. You say you're still weak and feeling ill - leave it to me, then."
Grace and Kris are paying another visit to the village blacksmith. Krist Snak is sitting up in his shirtsleeves, watching television - some sort of Rumanian version of It's a Knockout, it looks like. He politely turns the sound down when he sees he has guests, and pours them tea.
"Krist, we'll be frank with you," says Kris, sitting down on the end of the bed. "We plan to break into the castle and rescue our friends."
"Bogou miou!" exclaims Krist, spilling his tea. Grace silently mops him down until he calms slightly. "My good God, that is what I said. You will need all the help He can give you for even thinking of such a scheme."
Kris sighs. "Enough melodramatics, please - are you going to help us, or not? We need assistance, equipment, information - anything you can say or do that will help us."
Krist looks around him worriedly, even parting the curtains to glance outside into the darkness. "I would like to help you - I know that what you say is right, and we could rid this village of an ancient blight. But I am afraid - I, Krist Snak, who was three times Eastern Transylvania's champion wagon-puller, I am not ashamed to say I am afraid of the arch-vrlock and his demon spawn."
"Well, we might not have to deal with the arch - vrlock? - himself in person. If we can sort out the ordinary vampires and the Baron, that may be enough to remove the menace from the village, and from our friends." Grace tries to force conviction and assurance into her voice - years of practice at tutorials help.
"But even the vampires are stronger than mere mortals such as we!" Krist indicates his broken arm.
"We have the technology," says Kris. She has been mightily impressed by Ferdinand's improvised crossbow - perhaps he does have his uses, after all.
Krist ponders long, then finally raises his head and says "Very well - I will help you, tulnagi woman, though it be the death of me, and we curse my poor dear mother to spending the remains of her life tending the grave of her only child."
There is a sharp comment in Hungarian from the kitchen, where Mrs Snak is doing the washing-up.
"But anyway," Krist continues hastily, "we cannot think of visiting by night - that is when the vile leeches are at their strongest. Sunlight is our best ally."
"We were planning an assault at noon - a sort of midday raid," nods Grace.
"Very good! Now, who of the villagers can we trust? Some are friends of the Baron, others like the money his tourists bring..." He fishes out a piece of paper and starts making a list. Kris and Grace glance at each other over his head with satisfaction.
Gino, Kyle, Ferdinand and Stuart drive the doctor's car round to the surgery, making a sombre trio as they plough through the slush, the sky dark above them. They pass the scruffy building the locals use as a tavern, several faces peeping through the window to observe them. Ferdinand waits in the car: he has only come along because he does not want to be left alone at the guesthouse.
Gino knocks firmly on the door with his leather-gloved knuckle.
After a few seconds Odorf opens the door, glancing nervously from one face to another. Nothing he sees seems to comfort him greatly, and he clings to the edge of the door. "C-can I help you gentlemen?"
"We want a word with you," says Gino, pushing him backwards into the hallway. The Italian part of his accent is noticeably stronger.
Odorf quails by the umbrella stand, hunched up in fear. Gino steps up to him and delivers a swift uppercut to his jaw. He slumps weakly to the ground.
Gino, wincing and blowing on his knuckles, motions to Kyle and Stuart to pick the stunned doctor up. They obey, rather warily.
Jeffrey rings his bell weakly, once Hans has returned from dinner.
"What is it, Reverend?" asks Hans with concern, seeing his charge prone and groaning weakly. He bends over the bed to take Jeffrey's pulse.
Jeffrey brings round his other hand, which is clutching the china plate on which his food was served, and smashes it over Hans's head. Alas, the blow is weak, and Hans merely looks slightly dazed and confused. Jeffrey darts off the bed before Hans can grab him, and dodges around the bath-chair. He calls out to Brian "Now! Get up!"
Hans growls in annoyance and makes a grasp for Jeffrey, who steps aside clumsily and trips over the front wheel of the chair. Hans is poised to pounce on him, but looks up to see Brian standing pale and sheet-wrapped in the doorway, so dives for him instead. Jeffrey, who although feeble and clumsy is a fairly tough old bird, gets to his knees and drives the bath-chair into the back of Hans's legs. Hans collapses into it with a startled squawk, and Jeffrey, possessed by who knows what demon, gives the chair a frantic push out into the hallway.
The well-oiled chair, with Hans aboard clutching frantically for the brake, caroms off a stone pillar and heads for the top of a flight of stone stairs. Jeffrey, horrified, can only offer up a brief prayer as it plummets down them, bumping gently at first then gathering pace, the unfortunate Hans powerless to stop its crazy career - until his last despairing wail is cut off in a crunching, splintering noise.
"Come on!" cries Jeffrey to Brian, who has watched all this with a dazed and disbelieving expression. "We have to move quickly, before someone else comes!"
"You'd better stay in the car," says Gino to the others as he parks it in a remote field towards the head of the valley. He hauls out Doctor Odorf with a hand under each arm, and drags him away into the field.
Stuart, Kyle and Ferdinand try not to listen as faint crunching noises and agonized screams intersperse the calm, steady monotone of Gino's distant voice.
After about twenty minutes Gino returns to the car, dragging Odorf, who has lapsed into unconsciousness and is not a pretty sight at all. "He says he's just the Baron's pawn," Gino says, "and I believe him - don't think he'd still be trying to lie to me!"
He relates what Odorf has told him: that the Baron briefed him, as soon as these tours were set up, to expect occasional tourists with Brian's symptoms. These were potential vampire recruits, and should be sent up to the Baron - their files marked with the words 'Temarsi maklunai', which mean simply 'For the castle'. Odorf has known about the Baron's links with the vampires all his life - all the villagers do, although some prefer to deny it to themselves as well as to outsiders. Odorf himself is not a vampire and never could be: he helps them out of fear, and the Baron gives him a hefty retainer. The Baron is also not a vampire, but an ordinary mortal: his family, the Srelts, have served the lord of the vampires for many centuries, though. As to who this lord might be, Odorf has never met him, although he believes he visits the castle frequently, usually by helicopter.
"If we hang onto him, we can probably persuade him to tell us a few more things," says Gino, "if you guys can think of any intelligent questions to ask."
He starts up the car again, Odorf's body bouncing uncomfortably between Kyle's and Stuart's shoulders.
"This way!" pants Jeffrey, hustling Brian up the stairs. As they reach the top, he hears the sound of approaching movement, and he draws his charge into a room - a library. The footsteps go past the door, but Jeffrey guesses it will not be long before their disappearance is noticed. He can still just about hear the thud, thud, thud of heavy underground machinery, so they are still too low.
Brian is glancing curiously at the volumes on the shelves. "Hey, this one sounds interesting - Down but not Out, by T. Rapdoor." As he pulls the book from the shelf, there is a clunk and a whooshing noise, and both he and Jeffrey plunge through a hole that opens up in the floor, to find themselves in a dark passageway.
Grace and Kris bring Krist Snak back to the guesthouse, which is rapidly assuming the characteristics of a fortress. Tomas and Marta are making no comment, but acting as though all this is perfectly normal.
While Krist phones round various of the locals he says are trustworthy, sounding them out about the proposed raid, Grace calls SITU and requests that they research Dave and Sheila Albright, the founders and organizers of Fangs for the Memory.
"Dodgy, are they?" replies the agent she speaks to. "Thought so!"
"Well, why didn't you warn us, then?" asks Grace, with some restraint. "Another name to check is Ferenc Molnar, a Hungarian who went to Germany a while ago - might he have gone to Klein und Klein?"
"Molnar! Him again. We've got another group of operatives who've run into him - in Heidelberg. Interesting. Maybe these two stories are linked... I'll get back to you on that, if we turn up anything interesting... it's all starting to fit together!"
Jeffrey and Brian, who has now regained some sort of semblance of vivacity, scamper along the passageway. There is an unpleasant chemical smell on the air. They burst into a brightly-lit room which looks rather like an operating theatre. On the table is a corpse, its chest cavity opened up as though for an autopsy. Brian gulps as Jeffrey hustles him through, only later saying quietly "Did you see that dead body? Its eyes followed us as we ran through the room, Jeffrey. They followed us."
Kyle is puzzling over the star maps. He is trying to work out if they are star configurations visible from Earth, or if they represent some alien vista. Or might they indicate the source of alien life? Might vampires be alien? He is no astronomer, but he recognizes a handful of constellations as being familiar. Certain stars are marked and have copious annotations, but what this means he cannot say - beyond being able to tell that none of them are among the large, bright stars most obvious in the night sky. Perhaps SITU will be able to make more of it.
Jeffrey's strength is near failing him as he half-carries Brian up another flight of stairs, weaving wildly from side to side. His head clunks against something solid, and he pushes upwards with his shoulders to raise another trapdoor.
At last they are above ground - in a large garage. At the far end are two of the Baron's servants, who leap to their feet, crying in alarm, to see the two erupt from the ground. Nearer by, though, is a huge old motorbike, a wartime model thinks Jeffrey in a moment of clarity. He leaps astride it and kicks the starter - the engine turns over first time. As the two servants run towards him he scoops up Brian, putting him behind him and trapping his arms under his elbows, and blasts the bike towards the open doorway and freedom.
Kyle, Grace, Ferdinand, Stuart and Kris are gathered around a table in the bar. Doctor Odorf lies tied up in one corner, and Tomas is studiously ignoring him as he serves drinks. "It's getting late now," says Stuart. "I hope we're not going to have any unwelcome visitors."
Suddenly there is a battering at the door. Tomas leaps to open it, and in plunges Jeffrey, all but dead on his feet, Brian slung across his shoulders. "It's all true!" he slurs. "The Baron is recruiting vampires! I must preach a sermon... rouse the villagers... burning pitchforks..."
He slumps into a faint.
Outside, in the darkness, can be heard the howling of wolves, close by.
11.59 pm, Sunday 2 November 1997
At the Kolnari Masza
Grace and Kris: you write up a set of notes for SITU, hide it in a suitable woodshed and inform them accordingly.