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Quincey Morris, Vampire
By P. N. Elrod
Baen BooksISBN: 0-671-31988-4
Chapter OneTransylvania, November, 1893
No single sense returned first. They mobbed me.
The numbing cold, the soft whine of dogs, the rough jostling, all tumbled together in my dulled brain like seeds in a rattle. I slipped to and fro between awareness and nothing until a sharp lurch and bump caught my attention, holding me awake for longer than a few seconds. It was enough that I dimly comprehended something was very wrong. The next moment of consciousness I managed to keep hold of; the moments to follow had me wishing I'd done otherwise.
Things were strongly tugging at my feet and legs, which seemed to be bound up. So was the rest of my body. I was wrapped snug and tight in a blanket from head to toe, unable to move or see. It was right over my face, which I never could abide. I groaned, trying to get free of the annoyance.
At this feeble sound and movement the tugging abruptly stopped, and the things-which I dazedly grasped to be several dogs-snuffled at me. I couldn't tell how many, but to judge by their sounds several at the least seemed to hold me as the focus of their attention. It made no sense until with a raw shock tearing through my nerves I realized they weren't dogs, but wolves.
In that instant full alertness returned, mind and body hurtling awake. I froze utterly, in the full expectation that the wolves would start ripping into me as I lay helpless before them. After a few truly terrible moments when nothing happened I tried to swallow my heart back into place, but there wasn't spit enough in my mouth for the job.
With whines and growls, their strong jaws clamped firmly on my wrappings again, and they resumed dragging me along. I could only think that made bold by hunger they'd entered our camp and picked me to pull away to a safe distance where they could feed.
Panic would kill me. I dared not shout an alarm to my friends. The noise might spark the wolves to attack their prize. They'd held off-for the time being-so I gritted my teeth and waited and listened in the frail hope I might somehow find a way out of this alive.
There must have been dozens of them. I could hear their eager panting and the click of their claws against bare stone or crunching into the thick snow. Wolves usually shy away from men-such had been my experience when Art and I had been trailed by that pack in Siberia. Had they been more desperate they'd have made a real feast for themselves on us. Being normal wolves, they'd held off and we'd escaped. But this pack seemed anything but normal. We were in the wild deeps of Transylvania, a far different place, and I'd already seen grim proof that a tall tale in one part of the world was God's own awful truth in another.
The wolves pulled me along another few yards. My weight, and I was aware of every solid pound of it going over those rocks, was nothing to them. Once they felt secure, they'd go through my all too thin blanket and clothes like taking the hide off a deer. I'd seen that happen once. The deer had been alive when they'd started in, and though quick enough, it hadn't been an easy death.
But all men have a limit to their self-control and that dark thought was enough to finally break mine; fear surged in my throat like vomit. It choked off any cry for help I might have made. I thrashed around like one of the madmen in Seward's asylum, fighting against my bindings. The wolves at my feet let go. One of them snarled, stirring up the others. They moved all around me, excited, nipping at the blanket as though in play, their efforts ironically helping my struggles as they shredded the cloth. Fresh air suddenly slapped my face as the damned thing finally came loose.
Bright-eyes catching the moonlight in green flashes, with lolling tongues and rows of white teeth, they scampered about like puppies. Some darted close to snap at me, wagging their tails at the sport of it. I wrested my hands free, but had no weapon to use. Some blurred memory told me I carried no knife or gun. I scrabbled in the inches-deep snow and found a piece of fist-sized rock. Better than nothing.
Then a big black fellow, one that was obviously the pack leader, lifted his head to the wild gray sky and howled. Ever an eerie sound, but to be so alone in the forest, to hear it so close and loud, to watch the very breath of it streaming from the animal's muzzle-had the hair on my neck not already been raised to its limit, it would have gone that much higher. The other wolves instantly abandoned their game and crowded around him, tails tucked like fawning supplicants seeking a favor. One after another joined him, blending and weaving their many voices into a triumphant song only they could fully understand.
The leader broke off and focused his huge green eyes upon me as the others continued their hell's chorus. It's a mistake to ascribe human attributes to an animal, but I couldn't help myself. The thing looked not just interested in what he saw, but curious, in the way that a human is curious.
He snarled and snapped at those nearest him. The pack stopped howling and obediently scattered. After a sharp, low bark from him they formed themselves into a wide circle like trained circus dogs. I was at its exact center. Some stood, others sat, but all watched me attentively. Though I'd had more contact with wolves than most men, I'd never seen or heard anything like this before.
A few of them growled, no doubt scenting my fear.
Clutching the nearly useless rock with one hand, I frantically tore at the bindings around my ankles with the other. It was desperate work, made slow by my reluctance to take my eyes from the pack. Despite the distraction of their presence, I saw that for some reason I'd been wrapped like a bundle for the mail, first in the blanket, then by ropes to hold it in place. Why? Who had tied me up so? I cursed whoever had done me such an ill turn, the burst of anger giving me the strength to get free.
I got clear of the blanket and staggered upright, half-expecting the wolves to close in. But they remained in their great circle, watching. There were no trees within it to climb to safety, and if I tried to break through the line at any point they'd be on me, so I kept still and stared back. One of the wolves sneezed; another shook himself. They knew they had me.
A gust of winter wind sent the dry ground snow flying. Flakes skittered and drifted over the discarded blanket. I slowly picked it up and looped it around my left arm. The leader stepped forward, growling. I angled to face him, my powerless fear turning to fury that I should be brought to such a base fate.
"Come on, you big bastard. I'll take you first," I whispered, growling right back. I would sell myself dearly to them.
The wolf lowered his head and rocked back on his haunches, like a dog about to do a begging trick. A roiling darkness that seemed to come from within the thing's body blurred the details as bones and joints soundlessly shifted, muzzle and fur retreated, skin swelled. It rose on its hind legs and kept rising until it was a match for me in height. The crooked legs straightened, thickened, and became the legs of a man, a tall, lean man clothed all in black. Only his bright green eyes remained the same, and when his red lips thinned into a smile I clearly saw the hungry wolf lurking beneath the surface.
I knew his face. One can never forget such stern features. They were the stuff of nightmares, all the more so for my knowing, of my being absolutely certain, that he was dead-for I'd killed him myself.
Yet there he stood before me, stubbornly oblivious to the fact.
I was as afraid as I'd ever been in my life and could have expressed it, loudly, but there didn't seem much point. In a few minutes I'd either be dead or worse than dead, and making a lot of noise about it wouldn't help me one way or another.
"I can respect a brave man, Mr. Morris," said Vlad Dracula, pitching his deep voice to be heard above the wind. In it was the harsh tone I'd heard when he'd taunted us from the stable yard of his Piccadilly house. Now he clasped his hands behind him and continued to regard me with the same mixture of interest and curiosity that had manifested itself in his wolf form.
The wind buffeted against his body with little effect other than to whip at his dark clothes and gray-streaked hair. Black on white was the mark Harker had left on the pallid flesh of Dracula's brow; he bore the scar with little sign of healing, yet nearly a month had passed from the last time I'd seen that face. But since then, I'd ... I'd ...
Something very like the wind whirled sickeningly inside my skull. The creature before me, the circle of wolves, the snow, the cold, all faded for an instant of nothingness before asserting themselves again. It was like the focus of a poorly made telescope shifting in and out.
"I killed you," I said faintly. I recalled the impact of the strike going right up my arm when my Bowie knife slammed firmly into his chest.
"So you did," he admitted. "With some help from Jonathan Harker do not forget."
Harker had buried his Kukri knife in the monster's throat. We'd fought our way through the Szgany to get to the leiter-wagon and the great box on top of it. The Szgany had drawn their knives to defend it, and one of them had ...
I looked down, my hand going to my side. The clothes there were thick and stiff with dried and frozen blood. I could smell it, sharp and compelling.
My blood. It had fairly poured from me as our enemies fled into the growing dusk. Harker caught me as I fell and sank back in his arms, my strength abruptly spent. Jack Seward and Van Helsing had tried their best to stop the flow, but the wound was too deep, the damage beyond any skill to heal. Thank God it hadn't been very painful. The last memory I had was of poor Mina Harker, her face twisted by bitter grief, but I'd been so happy, so at peace. The awful red mark on her own brow had vanished, and from that I knew I'd spared her soul from damnation. With such joy in my fast-beating heart did I slip contentedly away into what seemed like sleep.
Not sleep. Nothing so ordinary as that had taken me, changed me, turned me into ...
"No need for such alarm, Mr. Morris," Dracula said, reading my face. "What you have become is not so dreadful as you've been led to believe."
Not knowing my own voice, a cry escaped me. Heedless of the wolves, I burst through their circle, running back down their trail. I crashed through snowdrifts, blundered against trees, and tripped on invisible snares, but kept going. Not far ahead would be the warm yellow light of our campfire. If I could just get there, if Van Helsing still had some of his Holy Wafer left, there might yet be some protection for us.
For them. At least for them.
I was close enough to make out their huddled forms far down in the clearing where they'd made camp: the Harkers lying together, Van Helsing and Seward each rolled up in their blankets, Art a little off from them by the horses, presumably taking his turn at watch. All were fast asleep, though, worn out by the hard travel and the chase, but just one shout from me would bring Art instantly awake-
A hand, colder and heavier than the ice, clapped over my mouth just as I drew breath. As though I were a child and not a grown man topping six feet, Dracula lifted me right from my tracks, hauling me swiftly back into the cover of the forest. I lashed out with the rock still in my hand, but couldn't connect solidly enough to slow him. He was quite indifferent to my struggles, though I managed a few solid kicks that made him grunt. Then he spun me suddenly, and cracked my head against one of the trees.
Lights brighter than the sun blinded me. Ungodly pain robbed me of speech. I collapsed. Quite helpless to stop him, he easily hoisted me over one shoulder like an old sack and hurried back up the way I'd run. The wolves had tagged along for the brief hunt and now bounded playfully all around us. I couldn't tell how far he went, only that it was beyond where I'd originally revived, and well out of the camp's earshot.
He eventually dropped me flat on my face into the snow, and all I could do was lie there for a time nearly paralyzed and miserably ill from the shock. It passed too slowly to suit, but did pass. When I felt ready for it I pushed the ground away and propped myself against a tree. Dracula loomed over me, his white face twisted with fury.
"Fool," he snarled. "Do you think they'll show you mercy once they know about you?"
"I'm counting on it," I snapped back. "I know what to expect and shall welcome it."
"Well, I do not. Give yourself away to them if you must, but not me. I've been to enough trouble over this matter and want no more."
"Go to hell."
I didn't think his eyes could hold more rage. I was wrong. He raised a hand as though to smash me like a fly. His anger beat against me, a physical thing like heat from a forge, but after a long and dreadful moment he lowered his arm, and visibly shook himself out of his threatening posture with a sneer.
"You're but an infant," he muttered with no little disgust. "You don't understand anything yet."
"I know enough."
"I think not. Come with me and I shall be of some help to that end."
"Stay behind and your friends will be food for my children." He gestured meaningfully at the forest around us. No need for him to explain who his "children" were; I could still hear and occasionally see them well enough as they ghosted in and out of the surrounding trees. "Come and your friends will be safe."
"For how long?"
"As long as you remain sensible. And that is entirely up to you."
He stepped back and waited, watching as his wolves had watched. He offered no help as I found my feet, leaning hard on the tree. Though dizzy, I was able to think straight, but no idea running through my mind could be remotely mistaken for a way out of this spot. I did not trust him, was utterly repulsed by him and all that he represented, but he was well in control of things and we both knew it.
"Where?" I asked grimly.
He pointed behind me. We were to go even deeper into the timber, climbing away from the camp. I didn't like that, but followed as he led the way along what looked like a deer trail. The wolves kept pace, panting and wagging their tails like dogs out for a walk. Glancing back, I saw more than a dozen of them padding almost at my heels and realized they were obliterating my tracks in the snow. Was it accidental or intentional? I made a step off to one side as a test and went on. The wolves sniffed the spot and blotted out my boot print as they swarmed over it, tongues hanging as if from laughter.
We began climbing in earnest. Rocks rose high on our left, forming a natural wall that cut the freezing wind. The snow underfoot thinned and vanished.
Excerpted from Quincey Morris, Vampire by P. N. Elrod Excerpted by permission.
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