The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Fangs for the Memory – Chapter 12
12.15 pm, Monday 3rd November 1997
"We should wait for Kyle and Gino to open the doors," says Stuart.
"There's no more time to waste!" exclaims Jeffrey, listening intently to the sound of the approaching rotors.
"Perhaps some of the villagers can improvise a battering ram?" suggests Grace.
"Good idea," says Stuart. "Has anyone got an axe?" he asks in Hungarian. A ragged cheer goes up and several people whistle. He repeats the phrase with a slightly different emphasis and a snaggle-toothed farmer produces a small hatchet.
"It'll take forever to chop a tree down with that," says Jeffrey grimly. "Rudi, ram those gates. We must get inside the castle – even if that means writing off the van,' he adds, out of Rudi's hearing.
"How are we going to get away afterwards, then?" asks Kris. "Can't we do something clever with all this petrol?" She is looking quite pale.
Rudi glances eagerly from one to the other, in doubt as to which instructions to follow. "We'll find something – the Lord will provide," says Jeffrey confidently. "Your reward will be in Heaven, my son," he says to Rudi, clapping him on the shoulder, and this seems to tip the balance – he draws the van back and starts to rev it. Stuart shakes his head in disbelief.
Everyone apart from Rudi gets out of the van and retires to what they think is a safe distance, as the engine roars.
"We really ought to be getting back to the gates," says Kyle to Gino. "The others are probably here by now."
"Right then, let's deal with this quickly," says Gino. With the butt of his knife he deals the Baron a mighty thwack on the temple – a blow from which he is unlikely to arise in the near future. They tie the Baron up and shove him in an armoire, gagged so that if he does come round he will be unable to attract attention. Gino pockets the mobile phone.
"Let's go to work!" says Kyle, and he starts tunelessly to whistle 'Little Green Bag'.
They both pause as they hear a mighty smash and crunch from the front of the castle.
The van ploughs into the gates, Rudi leaping free at the last moment, and comes to rest stuck halfway through, timbers and metal dangling fitfully about it, its engine compartment compressed somewhat in length and its cab all but destroyed. Steam jets out from several points. With a ragged cheer the villagers pile through the gap, to meet a serried rank of baronial servants carrying halberds, voulges, glaives-guisarme and other items of unwieldy-looking and difficult-to-identify medieval weaponry.
"We should split into organized groups and search the castle!" calls Jeffrey, but to no avail as the villagers hurl themselves delightedly into a chaotic melee.
The helicopter is hovering overhead, the pilot presumably concerned at the tumult below. After a couple of minutes it lands on top of the castle's south tower, but the engine is not turned off.
Jeffrey points at the helicopter. "Arch Vrlock he may be, but will he foolhardy enough to come against the righteous? Maybe he'll cut his losses and flee once he realizes the castle – and the Baron – has fallen."
"It hasn't fallen yet," points out Ferdinand.
Gino and Kyle clatter down a flight of stairs, Gino brandishing the Baron's sabre and Kyle planning to use the empty shotgun as a club. There is not much sign of life – as they find out when they reach the side door, all the servants are in the courtyard resisting the villagers and preventing them reaching the main entrance. The battle is bloody and inconclusive.
Gino signals from the steps to Kris, who is hanging back and offering helpful suggestions to the others, and one by one the SITU team are able to detach themselves and group at the side entrance to the kitchens, leaving the villagers to deal with the servants. Doctor Odorf has been left tied up outside the gates.
"We need to stake those vampires," says Grace tensely. "Can't be too careful with those creatures of the night. And we should hunt out and remove, or destroy, all the associated artefacts – like coffins."
Ferdinand spins the pedals on his home-made crossbow meaningly.
The castle is eerily still and spooky as the party make their way towards the chamber where the vampire caskets lie. One by one they negotiate the revolving fireplace and thread their way through the dank, chill stone passages, occasional vents and openings bringing the noise of the fight in the courtyard to them.
They clamber through the secret panel, into the dark suite of rooms the vampires seem to inhabit, and gingerly tiptoe down towards the room where the caskets lie. "We'll have to separate them from each other quietly," says Kyle, "in case they start to wake up."
Gino is the first into the room, knife ready, but an unexpected and depressing sight greets him – all four remaining caskets stand open, their occupants absent. He start to turn back in annoyance to the others, then realizes that there is a... presence... in the room.
From the dark shadows at the far end a figure detaches itself, moving forward as the other operatives pile up behind Gino. It is a man (presumably), tall and slender, wrapped al round in a dark, dark cloak of soft material, whose edges are indistinct – it almost seems to absorb light. No features or form can be discerned. The figure says nothing, yet each member of the group can hear a voice speaking into their minds – a chill, dark, deep voice, a voice of tomb doors slamming far underground. It is uninflected, inhuman, utterly unemotional, utterly terrifying.
KRIS is trapped in a blazing car, her legs caught under the crushed dashboard. Beside her, Charlie screams as fire consumes him. She claws at the door, desperate to wrench it open, but it is jammed. Her legs spasm in agony as the flames start to lick her...
STUART is tied to a chair in one corner of a room, in which four men sit around a table. On a map of the country they move pieces around, yet he knows that this is real life, no game. Behind each man stands a whispering fiend...
JEFFREY serves communion, but the wine is a foul black ichor. As he looks up in horror, darkness steals over the rose window of St Mungo's, flames start to lick along the walls, and on the crucifix above him Our Lord has become a hideous, blasphemous nodding ape...
GINO is dragged, hands tied, towards the parapet of a bridge. To his feet are attached heavy iron chains. The men dragging him are his cousins Alfredo and Joe, and in the car behind them, watching, sits Sammy di Scarlatto. Gino cries in protest, but he knows that he has let down his family, and he deserves no better...
GRACE opens a brown envelope with a feeling of dread – as she scans the letter inside she sees that her funding has been withdrawn for the coming academic year...
KYLE is in the underground chamber in the mine, his hand stealing out against his will to touch the strange, chill cylinders. This time, though, the black presence is in the chamber with him and nods in approval as he feels his body warmth drawn out to suckle whatever slowly-stirring thing lies within...
FERDINAND watches in mild perplexity as his colleagues one by one crumple. He feels no fear as he aims his crossbow at the black form, and fires. To his dismay, though, the bolt passes straight through the figure and splinters against the far wall...
It is impossible to say how much time has passed, but Ferdinand finds himself alone in the casket room. Everyone else has fled, and there is now no sign of the dark figure. The castle around him is oppressive and dark, and he feels an urgent need for safety in numbers.
Walking quietly and carefully, he passes down the chain of rooms to where the picture covers the secret panel. There is a noise. Clambering through the panel is a vampire – as it sees him it hisses, eyes glowing redly.
Swifter than thought Ferdinand raises his crossbow and fires, but his aim is poor and the bolt strikes the vampire in the throat. It clutches at itself and recoils, while Ferdinand frantically winds the pedals and fits another bolt. Before he is ready, though, the vampire has gone.
He pauses for a moment, thinking, and then takes out five more bolts, laying them on top of and alongside the first.
Stuart finds himself in a large bedroom, equipped with a fine eighteenth-century four-poster bed. The vanity table and style of the furnishings suggest a lady of taste and distinction once lived here, but it must have been many, many decades ago.
He goes over to the window, waiting for his heart to stop pounding, then hears a tearing noise from behind him. Perched on top of the silken bed canopy is a vampire, crouching ready to pounce on him. It grins.
Stuart pulls out his squeezy bottle and hoses the vampire with garlic water, which hisses and steams as it touches the creature's flesh. The vampire seems determined, though, and springs down on Stuart, its cape billowing out behind it, bearing him to the ground. As they roll around together the bottle is torn loose from Stuart's flailing hand. The vampire's fangs are out and it quests for Stuart's throat – although he is a strong man it is considerably stronger. In desperation he manages to thrust a hand into his jacket and turn the barrel of the pistol he bought from Krist Snak so that it digs into the vampire's ribs. He pulls the trigger, almost breaking his thumb with the recoil – there is a tremendous bang, and the vampire stiffens then goes limp.
Stuart lies still for a moment, hardly breathing, then wriggles out from under the vampire, which is quite dead. He has shot it clean through the heart.
Jeffrey is in the maze of tunnels below the castle, where his fleeing feet guided him. His Bible is out in his hand. "For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the Lord," he mutters. "It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. And I will make this city desolate, and an hissing: every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof."
He is at the head of the stairs down which Hans met his terrible end. From far below he can once more hear the pounding of heavy machinery. There is no sign of Hans's remains – that man who had shown Jeffrey and Brian nothing but kindness.
"For now we see through a glass, darkly," whispers Jeffrey to himself, "but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."
He sits alone in the cold darkness.
Kris finds herself on a long balcony, looking down onto the main hall where the costume ball was held – just two short days ago? It seemed like a lifetime. Approaching her from either side, along the balcony, are two vampires, claws outstretched.
Kris glances around, but can see no way out, short of leaping over the rail. She turns her garlic-water bottle from one vampire to the other, hoping to hold them at bay, but knows that one could rush her while she is squirting the other.
She swallows, backing to the rail, determined to sell herself dearly as the two vampires approach.
Then, from a door behind the female vampire, Grace appears. She coolly and quietly takes two steps forward and thrusts smoothly with her assegai. The leaf-shaped iron head emerges between the vampire's ribs in front, and every muscle of its body spasms in a hideous death agony.
The other vampire snatches for Kris, but she drops to the ground under its grasp and writhes her way towards Grace, who allows the vampire's weight to drag it off the spear as it slumps. Grace is tired – the effort of that blow was more than she has called upon her body to provide for some years.
Kyle and Gino both snap out of their terror to find, embarrassingly, that they are hugging each other tightly in a sort of joint foetal ball.
They awkwardly spring apart and start searching the Baron's study-room, which is where they ended up. He is still unconscious in the armoire, but they take a good selection of notes and books, written some in Hungarian and others in the strange foreign language they have seen previously.
The window is swinging open, and something prompts Gino to look out of it. He is surprised to see that, a little way below, a vampire is descending the outer wall of the castle, clinging to the stonework like a great black spider. It does not seem comfortable in the sunlight, but not unduly discommoded.
He and Kyle both lean out of the window and direct their garlic squeezy-bottles carefully at the vampire's hands. It hisses, desperately shifting grip and attempting to cling to the stonework, but its hands slip and it falls a good fifty feet or so onto the broken rocks below.
Grace lifts the assegai again, but the vampire casually bats it aside. Kris squirts it full in the face with garlic water, and it blinks, its skin reddening and blistering, but it keeps on coming.
Ferdinand, who has just emerged onto the balcony in response to the sound of people, calls out "Duck!"
Grace promptly drops flat on top of Kris, and the vampire cries out in horror as it sees the cluster of six bolts speed towards it. Four strike, with a sizeable impact, and it is borne over backwards. Ferdinand runs up and, as Grace and Kris each hold an arm down, drives his last stake through its heart.
Stuart sees the helicopter lift off from the top of the tower – it dips around the walls of the castle briefly, then heads off down the valley, keeping barely above the level of the trees.
Looking down into the courtyard, he sees it is all over for the Baron's servants: those still on their feet are surrendering.
One by one the SITU operatives make their way down to the courtyard, to wearily greet a triumphant Krist Snak. Gino and Kyle are carrying the trussed Baron, who looks extraordinarily unwell.
"Let me take a look at him," says Grace. She tuts. "His skull's broken – how hard did you hit him? We'll have to be careful carrying him."
Stuart recovers the petrol stash and start to lay a trail of it around the castle's lower storeys, with help from the villagers.
"Right, have we got everything we came for?" says Kyle. "All still present ad correct – this is my favourite bit! The heroes stand around feeling smug."
Jeffrey is far from smug: he is moving around the injured villagers and servants, administering last rites as appropriate. Reverend Lundekvam is at his side. Jeffrey wears a harrowed expression.
There is a shout from the main gateway. "Look what I found!" says a triumphant Mike Richards. He is carrying over one shoulder the broken body of a vampire, impaled on a huge yew-wood stake. "I was just wandering round the foot of the wall, there, when I found this one crawling over the rocks, trying to get away. Look at the size of the fangs on him! So I finally got to stake my very own vampire – what an excellent end to my very best holiday ever!
From: Andre Swahn, Debriefing/99
To Operatives: Ferdinand Bingly, Jeffrey Fanlight, Gino Ferrocco, Kris Macdowell, Kyle McKenzie, Grace Ndofir, Stuart Winters
Subject: 'Fangs for the Memory' - holiday tour
Achievement of aims: all Operatives are to be commended for their resourcefulness and bravery during what was a far more hazardous investigation than anticipated. The extermination of the vampire nest, while beyond the scope of your original briefing, was clearly desirable, and accomplished effectively without Operative fatalities.
Priority A: you succeeded in establishing beyond doubt that the history of vampire legend in the Transylvania region is firmly based on fact, and that these 'creatures of the night' have all sprung from one original creator – the so-called 'arch-vrlock', who we surmise has had a long historical involvement in the area. As you will see from a later section of this debriefing, this information is of great value to SITU.
Priority B: although persistent material evidence is lacking, the wide selection of testimony reported can be considered useful.
Priority C: you have successfully cut through a wide range of the myths surrounding vampires and the means of their disposal. From analysis of your reports it is clear that sunlight and garlic do no more than discommode the creatures, and a blow through the heart – whether stake or bullet – represents the only certain method.
Brian Lewis: this individual's ancestry is being investigated by SITU. It seems that he, and a proportion of the population at large, may possess some genetic anomaly which renders them susceptible to the vampire's influence. Fangs for the Memory Tours, which acted as collecting agency for these individuals and delivered them up to the vampire, with the help of Doctor Odorf and Baron Srelt, must be seen as deeply compromised.
The significance of the characteristic dreams recounted by Mr Lewis is yet to be ascertained. We must hope that our enemies do not become aware that SITU is investigating these dreams: they may represent a key lead.
Mike Richards: this individual may represent a potentially valuable recruit for SITU. Clearly, he will never be able to progress to any great rank within the organization, because of the nature of his obsession. The seemingly imminent breakup of his marriage may push him further in our direction.
Krist Snak: this individual has been able to proclaim himself community leader in Pfaawelt, with considerable popular support. He represents a valuable ally and SITU will be liaising with him to ensure that the curse of vampirism does not return to the valley.
Doctor Claus Odorf: we must express strong doubt about the methods used by Operative Ferrocco to extract information from this individual. Odorf's mind is quite gone and he has been unable as yet to supply anything more of use. We can only hope that he responds well to therapy.
Baron Jacob Srelt: it is extremely unfortunate that Baron Srelt did not recover from the coma in which Operative Ferrocco's blow placed him. We can be sure that he would have had a great deal of light to shed on the historical relationship between the arch-vrlock and the people of Pfaawelt, and also on the nature of the vrlock himself.
The arch-vrlock: Operatives' descriptions of the abilities possessed by this individual are extremely disturbing. We can be confident that we have destroyed one base of his operations, and (see below) another may be soon to follow, but we will have to hope that personal contact between him and SITU operatives has not led to him knowing more about the organization than we would wish.
With the destruction of Castle Cnoiff, we imagine that the mining work we surmise to have been going on underneath it will have been disrupted – it is a pity that Operatives were unable to inspect this mining work. We surmise that ores of ytterbium were being extracted – this element clearly plays an important part in the arch-vrlock's schemes, but CENSORED.
Paul Crab, Dave and Sheila Albright: Fangs for the Memory Tours have gone out of business, with the disappearance of the Albrights: we are trying to trace them. Crab is currently looking for work with other coach tour companies.
Cooperation with other Operative group: the sharing of information between this Operative group and the group currently active in Heidelberg has been extremely beneficial. SITU have been able to piece both accounts into a larger whole. Members of this group will be copied the results of the Heidelberg team's investigations in due course, with some of SITU's conclusions.
The star charts and notes in unknown language: CENSORED.
The mobile telephone number: CENSORED.