Nightworld

Overview

By day it was paradise. By night it was a seething hell. Nightworld — where for centures werewolves, dragons, griffins, and vampires served a computerized Prince of Darkness . . .
Where every sunset brought forth a call for the most heinous acts imaginable by the most frightening creature of all . . . Where a courageous young lord and a determined outworlder set forth on a journey of innumerable terrors to ...
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Overview

By day it was paradise. By night it was a seething hell. Nightworld — where for centures werewolves, dragons, griffins, and vampires served a computerized Prince of Darkness . . .
Where every sunset brought forth a call for the most heinous acts imaginable by the most frightening creature of all . . . Where a courageous young lord and a determined outworlder set forth on a journey of innumerable terrors to destroy the computer creature known as Satan in its own technologically horrifying haven of hell!

"Wonderful! A journey in the company of ood travelers through a landscape of old menaces newly twisted — a cleanly written adventure story." — Roger Zelazny
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587152641
  • Publisher: Wildside Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 6.03 (w) x 9.03 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Read an Excerpt

One

Sunset had caught Oliver Dolan dozing in the Forest of Fernwold. Unless he sped to a haven behind the walls of Fernwold Castle, he feared a nightcreature would catch him as well.

The thought was unpleasant. As Oliver scrambled to his feet and hastily regained the path to the castle, he thrust the idea from his mind. Fear would only make things worse. Panic was to be avoided. He slowed his pace, straightened his lace-cuffed maroon jacket, and smoothed his disheveled auburn locks.

A lad of nineteen summers, Oliver bore the aristocratic features of his family, hereditary rulers of the Duchy of Fernwold, province of Styx, fourth planet from the GO star which lent its number to the system. His thin nose tapered to a petite point, emphasizing a sharpness of feature that was softened only by the liquid flow of his wavy hair, the warmth in his brown eyes. His was a face that had seen very little unpleasantness, one that normally wore a smile comfortably, naturally. But at that moment, a distinct frown wrinkled its smoothness.

He'd brought no weapons -- not even a dagger.

Traditional weapons of any kind were of dubious utility against the nightcreatures, but certainly something sharp or hard in his hand would have lent more confidence to his gait.

The sun had just dipped below the golden horizon of the forest, dragging precious light behind. It was the moment Oliver had dreaded most of his life. A lover of the trees and fields and waterways of the Duchy, often, on afternoons, he would wander along the paths, through the bowers, over the sparkling, mirror-surfaced streams which burbled happily over smooth-pebbled beds. This day he had paused by astream for a rest, and had fallen asleep beneath the shady canopy of an oak.

His parents would be worried, he knew, and with good reason.

The light was trickling away rapidly, and darkness filled the sky's inverted bowl with stars. Charon, the larger of Styx's moons, had already risen, shining coolly against the rich blue velvet of the heavens. Puffy gray and white clouds coasted eerily overhead, spurred on by the same steady breeze that whispered through the oaks of the forest disturbing dying leaves which crackled softly, like tiny bones breaking.

The dreamy Nightworld gently seized the land. Soon, its dangers would be unearthed.

Oliver speeded to a jog, then to a slow run which jostled the end of a silk scarf from its nest in his coat. Flaglike, it fluttered behind as he rapidly climbed the path. His calf-high leather boots clopped along the hard-packed earth, kicking loose stones into the mountain laurel that fringed the trail. The darkness began to close around him like a gigantic fist.

From atop a rise in the path, he glimpsed the towers of the castle, proudly thrust above the trees, glowing dully white in the dim beams of Charon and the dusty stars.

No, not far now, he thought. If he could make the road in just a few minutes he would be reasonably safe. The creatures seldom ventured --

A snap. A large branch breaking. The sound was painful to his ears. Startled, he froze, and gazed about him.

He heard the crackle of distant leaves uncaringly stepped upon; then a harsh, brittle swoosh: something was moving through the shrubbery.

Three possibilities occurred to the boy: The sounds might have originated from some relatively harmless animal -- a squirrel, perhaps, or a bear. But would a squirrel, or even a bear, cause such a din? A man, then. But what would a man be doing in the woods at night of his own free will? That left but one possibility, and the realization propelled him into a desperate run down the sloping path, toward the road.

A nightcreature.

Confirming his fears, the noise from the forest behind him rapidly increased. Something was interested in him. Some thing was pursuing him.

From behind him came a snarl, then a growl, the staccato rustle of undergrowth violently thrust aside. The thing had increased its speed as well. Shortly it would gain the cleared path, and could apply more speed to the chase.

Oliver whisked off into the night as fast as he could manage. Cold sweat beaded his skin. His face was clammy against the night breeze, but hot and flustered beneath. The trailing end of his scarf snapped. His long hair streamed backward.

He ventured a hurried glance to the rear, where Charon loomed large over the pathway. There was as yet no visible sign of his pursuer. Suddenly his foot struck a large stone embedded in the path, spilling him to the ground. When he raised his dirtied face, he saw it, just gaining the pathway from the dense forest:

A werewolf.

Paralyzed with fear, Oliver could only stare up the hill at the creature silhouetted against the milky white orb of the moon. It halted and raised its flared snout, while inhaling great volumes of fresh air, no doubt full of the scent of Oliver Dolan.

At least seven feet tall, the werewolf seemed all bristling hair, glinting teeth, and unsheathed claws. It stood like a man, on its hind paws, rearing not fifty yards off, a promise of horrible, bloody death.

Momentarily having lost sight of its quarry, the creature growled tentatively, then snapped its fangs with an animal fury made more frightening by its human quality. Oliver, hidden in the shadows, crawled slowly off the path, then rolled into a clump of long grasses. Just as Oliver drove into the deeper shadows, the werewolf began to advance slowly down the incline, slouched forward in predatory expectation. As it neared, Oliver could see that the werewolf wore the tattered clothing of a man, speckled with crusted blood. The creature smelled of earlier meals and offal.

Soon, the beast stood alongside Oliver's hiding place, searching. Its matted brown fur stood on end about its thick neck. Oliver made a conscious effort to restrain his breathing a very difficult task, considering his run. But he was downwind of the nightcreature and it did not seem to have his scent.

Snarling harshly, the werewolf descended the path out of Oliver's view, obviously unwilling to admit that its intended repast was lost. After a few moments, Oliver dared to peek from his hiding place. He craned his neck and found that the werewolf was now out of sight. A few moments' rest to restore his wind, and he crawled warily back toward the pathway. At its edge, his hand brushed a long, stout stick, a poor weapon, but better than nothing.

Grasping this in his right hand, Oliver rose to his knees, and scanned about him. The road could not be more than a hundred yards off. Chances were, the werewolf was still padding along the path, hopeful of espying its quarry once again. Having reached the road, the creature would no doubt retrace its steps.

It would be a disaster if the werewolf caught Oliver on the pathway. As rapidly as the lad dared, he entered the dark forest that separated him from the relative safety of the road. After penetrating some way into the foliage, he could advance once more toward the road. From there he had a fighting chance to sprint for the safety of the nearby castle.

He moved cautiously. After a minute or two of steady, if somewhat noisy progress through clumps of blackberry bushes and tangles of fallen tree limbs, he angled toward the road. Crisp dead leaves carpeted the dank, musky forest floor and crunched under Oliver's stealthy footsteps. Bent conifers surrounded him now, like gnarled soldiers standing a long forgotten post.

As he walked, the boy yearned for the security to be found behind the stout walls of the castle. There he could pull a chair up to a warm muttering fire, switch on a lamp, and read while munching an apple. Dwelling on this image helped to keep him calm.

Suddenly a thick-holed tree loomed before him, its dense canopy blocking the little light that remained. Here, the moon's pale beams barely reached the ground, sufficient only to mottle the darkness.

And so Oliver did not see his nemesis until the moment it hurled itself upon him from behind the tree.

Snarling, drool slathering its chin, the beast jumped with such force that it impaled itself on the sharp end of Oliver's branch. It was not driven far enough into the beast's abdomen to destroy the creature, for the force wrenched it from Oliver's grip.

The hulking werewolf raised its head to the sky and screamed in pain. Glistening blood streamed from its wound as it staggered about, clawing at the stick.

Recovering from his shock rapidly, Oliver dashed toward the road. The creature quickly plucked the stake from its body, swiveled about, and fiercely followed its intended victim.

Oliver ran breathlessly, unmindful of the prickly holly and the blackberry thorns that tore at his clothes, raked his face. Somehow his feet avoided the snares set by weeds and branches. Very quickly, he found the road.

As he paused briefly to suck in some airy he heard the squeaking of carriage wheels and the clop of horses' hooves. He glanced down the dirt road to where the castle could clearly be seen. Rolling slowly toward the huge walls, rocking noisily on overworked springs, was a gray, wooden van pulled by two brown and white horses.

If he could but attract the driver's attention...

"Help!" he cried, with what little power remained to his lungs. "Stop!"

His limbs heavy with pain, he staggered forward. Behind him, the frenzied thrashing made by the werewolf drew nearer. The sound triggered a burst of speed into his legs.

Then the forest sounds ceased; the werewolf was on the road as well. Even as the young man reached this conclusion, the beast's grunts and snarls snapped at his ears.

The van had stopped, he suddenly realized, and he added a final burst of speed. A hairy face peered inquisitively around its side. Not daring to halt, Oliver scrambled up to the driver's seat. He flailed wildly at the man and yelled, "Drive, man! Start moving!"

"Whoa, lad. Steady on. I'll deal with the matter. Up to the roof with you." There was no need for further encouragement; Oliver leaped to the flat roof. "You'll be safer there."

Oliver looked back. The werewolf was almost upon them. "Hurry!" he cried down to the man. "Whip your team, man. Let's get out of here!"

"Oh, there's no hope of escaping the thing," the stranger said, unruffled. "We'll just have to meet it here. Now, why don't you stand up, so the beast can see you plainly. That will distract it long enough for me to do what I must."

Startled, Oliver stared down at the fellow in disbelief. The stranger was crawling into the van through a door behind the driver's seat. It was well that Oliver was crouched, for suddenly the van was struck with such force that he was tossed backward. The lad clung to the stout wooden luggage mounts to save himself from tumbling over the side.

He turned.

The werewolf was trying to clamber atop with him. Inch-long claws scrabbled at the wooden surface Oliver lay upon, leaving deep white scars. Suddenly, he was staring the thing in the eyes.

The face was an obscene meld of man and beast. Baleful fires flickered in large eyes, and malodorous saliva dripped from sharp, ivory-bright fangs that opened and then gnashed together in noisy anticipation of a hard-won meal.

Oliver pulled off his soft coat and hurled, it. The jacket wrapped itself neatly around the thing's head; without daring to consider the consequences, Oliver stood and booted the werewolf squarely in the snout.

The creature whimpered with pain, then howled, but did not budge. Holding itself fast with one paw, it swiped at Oliver and knocked the boy to the road. He landed well, but the fall dazed him; he could barely move. His breath seemed squeezed from his lungs. Helpless, he watched the werewolf rip the coat from its face then glare about, searching. Finally, its eyes settled on Oliver and snarling a savage victory note through its teeth, it hopped down.

Though energy quickly returned to his numbed limbs, Oliver could nevertheless only crawl backwards, crablike.

"Now then," called a voice from behind. "I think we've found what's needed for this little dilemma."

The fat man now stood alongside the van, a top hat of fine beaver perched slightly askew atop a great cherubic head, black suede cape bellying in the breeze. Strapped to his paunch was a large metal cylinder. Both hands gripped a two-pronged spear attached to the canister by a long, thin wire.

The stranger's beefy features were set in a grim smile. No fear showed.

"All right, lad. Just move slowly away from the field of honor. Easy now. I've got its attention. We don't want it back at you."

Oliver crept cautiously away from the van toward the roadside. The werewolf seemed to have lost interest in him, staring instead with great intensity at the obese newcomer, as though, somehow, it knew him.

Tentatively at first, then roaring a challenge that caused a tingle to race through Oliver, it moved a step forward. The fat man took a corresponding step toward the creature, waggling the spear teasingly.

The werewolf charged.

Raising his spear and dropping to one knee, the man caught the beast full in its hirsute chest with the barbed prongs. Hardly fazed, the furious nightcreature slashed at the man with its claws, trying all the while to press forward. But it was halted by the spear, and the spear only.

Oliver saw no hope for the man, or for himself. After all, it took more to kill a werewolf than a bident and bravery. What could the fellow have been thinking?

Calmly, the fat man inserted the unoccupied end of the weapon into a slot on the canister. His agile right hand quickly flipped a switch on the device.

There was a buzzing hum. Abruptly, the werewolf ceased snarling, then stiffened and tried to back away, to pull itself from the prongs. But the barbs prevented that. The caped man followed, hit another switch.

The werewolf howled like a damned soul and jerked about as if in the throes of some strange affliction. Wisps of gray smoke began to rise from its chest and face and a tongue of flame licked at the dark through a tapered ear. Oliver heard a crackle, smelled the stench of burnt flesh -- and something else.

"There!" the fat man said, satisfied. "One more power surge." Another switch clicked. Completely out of control, the werewolf weaved to and fro, clutching at the spear frantically, shrieking with pain and outrage.

The animal dropped to the road. Quivering, it began to burn.

The caped man wrinkled his nose at the stench, then pushed at a lever near the base of the spear. The weapon's barbs retracted; he pulled it free easily, then let his mechanism slip to the ground. He hopped blithely over to his van, returned with a smaller canister, and squirted the flames with white, bubbly foam. They died.

After returning his weapon to the van, the stranger poked at the dead hulk with a stick. "Big fellow," he muttered. Then, remembering Oliver, he turned to face him. "Come here, lad. You might as well have a look at the beastie who almost had you."

Oliver obeyed.

"Here. You'll need some light." The man pulled an electric torch from a large pocket and flashed it over the corpse. "I'll bet you think this is all supernatural."

"Magical, sir!" Oliver breathed, "and you, sir, must be a magician, or a sorcerer, even."

The man swept up a hand gracefully in what seemed a practiced mannerism. "Tut tut. Nothing of the sort. Possessed of a little more knowledge than your people, and certainly owner of more advanced equipment, but a sorcerer? Hardly. Although I can see how all this might appear supernatural." He offered a manicured hand. "By the way, the name's Geoffrey. Geoffrey Turner, member of the Holy Order to Preserve the Empire. And what name do you go by, lad?"

Oliver hesitantly grasped the man's hand, pumped it. "Oliver Dolan, sir." He waved his free hand toward the castle. "My family rules this land. By day, anyway."

"My word, how fortunate," the man said, rubbing his long, bushy beard in contemplation. "It would appear that I'll have little trouble finding shelter for this night. But first, I want you to have a closer look at our dead friend here."

He cast the torch-beam down, overturned the ruined creature with his stick.

Oliver gasped. Instead of burned flesh and singed fur, he noted the gleam of metal, lengths of discolored wiring, items of half-melted plastic and hard glass he had never encountered before.

"An android, Oliver," explained Turner. "Part flesh, part robot. They're all this way -- the werewolves, the dragons, the gryphons, the chimeras, and what have you." He plucked a white silk handkerchief trimmed with blue lace from a pocket of his beige, ruffled shirt and dabbed at his damp forehead. "Yes, and even the vampires, the most dangerous of the lot."

• • •

The vampire's boots clicked against the jet floor of the hallway, echoing loudly in the normally soundless corridor.

Along the right wall, red arrows blinked brightly, darting crimson flashes into the dimly lit hall, directing the creature to an open elevator.

The vampire entered and doors whisked shut behind it.

The mechanism sighed deep into the heart of the Netherworld.

Had the vampire known of Christian legend, of Dante's Inferno, it might have found the situation ironic. To descend to Hell in an elevator -- Evil as a machine -- a fantastic notion, worthy of a painting by Bosch.

But this vampire knew little save of its Nightworld, of its Master's will, of its hunger. Even now, its insides ached at the thought of fresh, warm blood. But the audience would not be long. And then it could stalk its prey.

Suddenly, the elevator halted. The doors opened.

The scent of molten brimstone caused its nostrils to flare. Moaning, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth assailed its ears.

The hot breath of Hell caressed its face.

Copyright © 2000 by David Bischoff

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