Friday, October 31, 2014

Case Study No. 1646: Funar and Kairn

Veil Of Darkness (Intro 1 - Castellano)
Pre-introduccion de Veil Of Darkness para PC en su version en espanol
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Added: 3 years ago
From: kachorro2
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Veil of Darkness is a horror-action-adventure game for DOS, FM Towns and PC-98, which was developed by Event Horizon Software and published by Strategic Simulations, Inc. in 1993. Veil of Darkness is a third person, 2D point-and-click adventure game with RPG elements featuring a fixed isometric perspective and a fair share of action-RPG style combat.

Veil of Darkness features an isometric point of view, and an inventory system. The player moves around in a dark valley, solving puzzles and occasionally killing monsters like werewolves, vampires and skeletons. Although VoD lacked a skill system, it can be regarded as one of the spiritual ancestors of popular action RPGs like Diablo or Sacred.

The screen is divided into a playing area on the top portion and a control panel at the bottom. The control panel is customizable in size. The playing area is viewed from an isometric angle.

All actions were controlled by the mouse and by areas / items within the control panel. A player can use either arrow keys for guiding movement or the mouse.

The game is non-linear: (it could be considered a precursor to the open environment games prevalent in the new century) the player can wander about and explore freely within an area, but certain places or actions cannot progress until the Player has done certain actions and/or found certain items.

In conversations, the Player can click on a certain underlined word to pursue that topic, or the Player can type a word when the input cursor appears. If the typed word is appropriate, the Player will receive a response. To end a conversation, the Player would click 'Bye' or type 'Bye'.

The inventory can hold several items, and the Player can also find bags and pouches that enable the Player to carry more items.

There is an indication in the control panel for weight (the knapsack bulges when inventory is too heavy), and for health (the Player character in a coffin becomes a skeleton progressively from the feet upwards).

There is a 'mirror' that will indicate if the Player have an ailment (aged, cursed, etc.), and also certain ailments show on the Player's face in the Player portrait in the control panel.

The puzzles are typical of a point-and-click adventure game. Some of them require very good reasoning. The puzzles consist mainly of:

* Piecing together what the Player learns from conversations.
* Finding and using objects.
* Finding ways to get into locked areas or past a guardian.

Different weapons work with different enemies, so the Player needs to find the right weapon for each battle. Also, one needs to find different plants (and sometimes other items) to cure different ailments.

The Player assumes the role of a cargo pilot whose plane is shot down by a mysterious force while flying over a remote valley in Romania. A helpful village girl named Deirdre Kristoverikh rescues the Player from the crash and takes the Player to her father Kiril, who informs them that their arrival via plane crash marks them as the chosen one who is prophesized to destroy Kairn.

Kairn is the local vampire lord who long ago murdered his father and brothers so he could inherit control of the valley. Becoming a vampire, he's used his powers to cut off contact with the outside world. The valley rests in perpetual darkness or as the game's title suggests a “veil of darkness” and the Player moves about the map, learning of new locations from the populace as you assist in various quests.

As Kairn has cut off all ways out of the valley, the only way the Player is going to leave is by fulfilling the Prophecy, an ancient curse put upon Kairn by his original source of power, a tome known as the Agrippa. The Player uses the Prophecy scroll as a guide and after bringing aid to many in the village, finally confronts Kairn at his fortress.

The Player defeats Kairn by performing a number of tasks that weaken the vampire to the point that a stake in the heart will kill him. The tasks are:

* Protecting themself from Kairn's hypnotic powers
* Finding the sun box and releasing the light.
* Striking Kairn with a vial of holy water.
* Calling Kairn by his real name.
* Nailing his coffin shut.

Upon the destruction of Kairn, the Player and Deidre head for America via steamer ship.

Main characters
* The Player - The player assumes the role of a cargo pilot whose appearance is that of a young Caucasian male with blond hair. The Player can type in any name or alias they wish, and all in game characters will often refer to him by that name.

* Kairn - The primary antagonist of the game. An evil nobleman who's become a vampire and subsequently plagued the valley he rules over with an iron fist. Kairn's origins and back story are revealed in a story called The Forge of The Evil Heart which can be found preceding the Prophecy in the game manual.

A major plot point of Veil of Darkness is the Player's need to discover the real name of Kairn. The name - contained in the pages of the Agrippa - is chosen randomly from a long list.

A partial list of those names include: Beaulu, Bhenblod, Brcko, Dauthr, Drak, Malachi, T'san, Yfelan.

* Kirill Khristoverikh - The richest and most powerful man in the Valley, Kirill acts as a guide for the Player and instructs them in the Prophecy. He is also quite corrupt, despite wishing to free himself and the others from Kairn's evil grip, he willingly hands his daughter to the vampire. He also keeps his son Andrei in an upstairs bedroom as a zombie, unwilling to kill him.

* Deidre Khristoverikh - The female lead, she is the one who saves the player's character and is later given to Kairn by her father Kirill. Deidre plays a small active role in the game itself, merely acting as a love interest and a damsel in distress for the end battle.

* The Agrippa - An ancient and powerful book of dark magic. Used by Kairn to achieve his power, he later saw it as a threat and had it chained in a secret room, in a cave. It threw a curse on him which is the prophecy that forever threatens Kairn.

When the player speaks with the Agrippa, they become affected by the Brimstone curse and must remedy it by using the Dismissals of Evil Vol. III, which is located in Kairn's fortress. No one will talk to, or help them until the curse has been removed.



Vampires, a werewolf, a gaggle of ghosts and ghouls, a coterie of corpses, and a diversity of dark denizens inhabit this game from 1993 by the combined talents of Event Horizon and SSI. It's a mostly interesting heroic tale but perhaps with an even more interesting villain. Follow me now into the strange valley where it all began.....

In the manual of the game we meet a young man named Kairn, a son of the lord of Csarda. An innocent who has been dominated all his life by a violent, ruthless, domineering father as evidenced by the damage inflicted on one of his legs as punishment for not clearing a hurdle on a horse. He is not the ''real man'' his father expects or wants and is seen as weak next to his 4 older brothers. But now he has found a Hungarian girl he is in love with named Deanna and goes to the royal librarian, who's hand had already been cut off by that same father for supposed treachery, to help him woo her by giving him a book of poems. This despite the fact they both know his father will disapprove of the peasant girl. While there, Kairn notices an ancient book, steeped in bloody legends of curses, chained up.

Kairn rides to speak to his love at her house. When he gets there though he finds Deanna's father murdered and she held captive by his father and brothers. She has been badly beaten and his father proceeds to tell him how outraged he is that his youngest son would mingle with a ''Hungarian dog''. So, in front of his son's eyes he murders her with a knife and forces him to drink her blood as his brothers hold him down.

After this, Kairn wants vengeance but knows he cannot do it without power so he tells his father he wants to be the new librarian with the idea to use the Agrippa, the chained book. His father and brothers only laugh since they know the librarian is already dead. The Agrippa turns him into a vampire and plunges the valley into perpetual darkness. To complete the transformation Kairn eats the dead librarian's heart and then proceeds to murder one of his brothers through control of a minion. This first act of violence gives the local bar it's name - The Severed Head. He personally confronts his father, stops him from beating a servant girl and drinks his blood as his father tries to kill him with a sword. Yet he allows his father to live so he can taunt him as he tells how he will murder his other brothers and, eventually, him, either in the same way or by his own hand, and that he is powerless to stop him.

Finally, Kairn returns to the library to get the Agrippa and finds a coffer which contains the valley's light. Certain points of this story are important to completing the game. Not to mention it's a great story, maybe a little more compelling than our hero's.

The graphics are gorgeous as the game begins with part of the prophecy as written by Kairn's father then a light flickers on as we see our fair-haired hero standing outside a large ruined house. In one of the top windows a dark, tall form looms then changes into a bat and flies to just behind our unsuspecting alter ego as he tries to read a map by the light of a cigarette lighter. The bat changes into an enormous, cadaverous vampire as our hero realizes too late, drops his map and is enclosed by the arms of Kairn. This is all eye candy of course but sets the right mood.

As the game really begins our hero is flying freight over the cloud-enshrouded Carpathian Mountains. Kairn, at this point, has spent centuries as the dark ruler of this unchanging land and tries to bring unsuspecting travelers into the valley. Perhaps, as the manual intimates, he half hopes for release at some hero's hands though he cannot simply give up as the evil that resides in him wants to continue.

First, Kairn tries to use his telekinetic powers to bring our character's plane down; then, when that doesn't work, he sends his bats who finally do the trick. Our hero crawls out of the wreckage and we see hands reaching out for him as the screen fades since he's starting to black out. Next we overlook a misty valley and watch as a shrouded, lithe figure waves for another hulking one, with a lifeless body slung over its shoulder, to join it as they walk on, descending into the village below. Then the screen changes and blurs and very slowly we see the beautiful, supple, doe-eyed face of a young girl who smiles as she realizes we're awake.

You may have noticed I never say our hero's name. That's because you get to give him one as you introduce yourself to Dierdre, the young flirtatious female who has found you and brought you to her house.

What you see for most of the rest of the game is a screen that's so big you have to scroll down using your mouse to see the rest of it. It's composed of a 3-d overhead view of you and your surroundings from an angle at the top of the screen. Below this is your character's portrait, a picture of your knapsack to show how much stuff you're carrying and a picture of your character in a coffin to show your health status (the picture changes to a skeleton as you lose health points). A bigger picture of him is below this to show what you're holding or wearing or if you're aging (because of a creature of the night) or cursed by fire and brimstone (by the Agrippa). To the right of this is a wooden cabinet to show what items you have, pictures of your right and left hands and what they're holding, icons of your hands in a throwing motion (so you can throw the object your holding of course), icons to access for a map of the valley and a copy of the prophecy. Below this is a mirror that shows blessings, curses or any other influences and below this is a status area showing the weight you carry in pounds and information on a blessing or curse you click on in the mirror.

Everything is accessible by mouse clicks. To use something from your inventory you just move that object from the cabinet to one of your hands and click that hand to use it. Or, move the object to the full body portrait on the lower left to wear it.

You have to fulfill the prophecy and as you do, each part will change from dark red to light gray. You'll have to fill in the map of the valley yourself by listening to the local gossip at The Severed Head and talking to other characters then afterward the place will appear on the map and you can click it to travel there. More maps will be shown as you explore different mazes like: The Hedge Maze, The Catacombs, Crazy Frank's Caverns, The Mausoleum Inner Chambers and Sinkhole Caverns and you'll have to make your own map of The Dark Forest.

You'll see other exotic places like Kairn's fortress, the 2 villages, a monastery, a swamp and, of course, a cemetery.

Along the way you'll meet vampire women who don't try to bite you but simply inflict wounds, bats, glowing white ghosts, shades that look like black blobs, skeletons, moving statues of warrior women, topiary creatures who look like big green fuzzy worms, a werewolf, will-o-wisps that look like big stars, zombies, a banshee that appears as a woman then a band of light that surrounds you and wolves. Killing these last creatures left me with a sick feeling after playing the PC game Wolf but if you want to finish you don't have much choice.

You'll also meet a menagerie of characters ranging from gypsies to an ill young girl and another caught in a trance to a man transformed into a tree to a wrongly accused hanged ghost. Most of these characters will need your help in some way and generally give you some information in return though mostly it's just to complete each part of the prophecy.

As far as the graphics are concerned, the best parts are both the beginning and end. During the game it's when a certain important action occurs and a little window pops up to show you a close-up of things like: the werewolf's transformation, Kairn's transformation into a bat, a one-armed rotting corpse rising from water's depths to ferry you to an island, you using a winch to open a portcullis or trying to pry open a rusted door, being attacked by the banshee, nailing Kairn's coffin closed, opening the valley's light on Kairn or seeing the voluptuous beauty of the local gypsy girl as she reads your fortune.

The final battle with Kairn is beautifully rendered but doesn't have you participating. I guess the makers wanted you to be able to fully appreciate their graphic artistry. Though I really didn't mind by then as you will feel you really earned it since it will take quite a while to complete this game. I took 2 weeks to figure out all the puzzles and you do get to do some damage to Kairn personally before the end, if you get that far.

As for the music - it wasn't bad and certainly started out well in setting a suspenseful mood but become somewhat repetitive as the game went on. The sound effects were hit and miss. Sound effects like: the vampire women crying out as you pour holy water on them or the werewolf growling sounded noisy and unclear. This may have been do to my sound card as I had more than a few problems with its performance when I used to play this. I should also mention there are no voices in this game. All talking involves windows showing a given character's face and what they're saying.

Another problem I had with this game involves helping free Kairn's father's and brothers' souls. It seems strange to help them considering they were mostly responsible for this whole affair in the first place. In fact, helping them takes up a large part of this game.

In the end this game's an old-fashioned horror story and is kind of like the old Dark Shadows soap opera in that there are so many different storylines going at once. It's well-crafted though I would have liked the chance to be Kairn. His doomed hero turned villain seemed an even better character to explore. If done right it could have made a great prequel in the same way that the new Star Wars movies could have if they'd had slightly better actors.

If you like the more well-traveled approach to horror then this game is for you. It pulls out all the stops, just don't expect any big surprises.




The Forge of the Evil Heart

A hand had been nailed to the library door. It appeared gaunt and shrunken, a thing all but withered to the bone. And before it, Kairn of Csarda paused.

When he examined its lines in the morning air, a sharp and almost irresistible urge began to build in him. He found himself wanting to touch it, to place his own hand - fingertip to fingertip - against the decaying flesh.

The hand was positioned so that anyone standing before the entrance could not fail to see it. Beyond this the building itself loomed, fortress-like. Its massive stones dominated the hill upon which it stood, its columns, towers, and windows of colored glass giving it first one aspect then another.

A man approaching the rise from one angle might perceive a stronghold, yet from another he would swear the ruins of a church were standing in his way, while from still a third an impression would come over him that this could be nothing more cheery than some vast mausoleum.

And though the hand upon the door added to the building's stark character, it was not alone. High above, resting in the shadow of the battlements and confined within a cage, lay the decomposing body of a man. Its clothes were gypsy tatters. Its arms, having been thrust through the bars, hung loosely before it. The hands were still clasped together; it seemed to Kairn that the wretch, to his last, must have been pleading for his life.

Gazing at the corpse, Kairn wondered what it would be like to be trapped there, to be confined so near the remains of a man whose heart, at least once, must have beat with the same cowardly rhythm as his own.

Such thoughts were not the norm for Kairn, but this day his heart and lungs were filled with a new energy. It was defiant and yearning. Like a great tide it swept over his fears to bury them beneath murky waters, leaving behind a taste for forbidden things. It was willing to move him into danger, this energy.

Pushing the strangeness of these thoughts aside, Kairn reached for the handle. He placed his hand, pale as it was, over the black iron and felt the mysteries of the building rush out to meet him.

He knew now why his brother Michael loved this place, gaining in a single touch, some intimation of the power held behind these walls. Perhaps, Kairn thought, it was a power only scholars and monks might truly measure.

There were no guards. And the last man to breach the sanctity of the library, to enter it without permission, smiled down at Kairn from the battlements. That broken-toothed grin was now the only expression the gypsy would ever bear.

Kairn opened the door. Its hinges protested loudly against each burst of his strength, but once inside he could hear the librarian working no more than an aisle or two away. It was dark, and the smell of decaying books overtook the rancid scent of death from outside. He limped forward.

"Are you there?" Kairn asked, cautiously. "Is it you?" There came a pause in the sound of books being moved along the shelves, and suddenly, as if there had been no reason to fear all along, an old man came out to greet Kairn, moving with a vitality that belied his age. Even in his gray years, the librarian seemed everything Kairn was not. Funar was large and moved with the presence of a warrior; his garments hung on him as if each tatter had occurred but recently, and in the heat of battle.

In one hand he carried a small volume, bound in leather. In the other - but he had no other. His right hand had been replaced by a bit of metal some three years earlier, and was now a hook from which a lantern hung.

"He isn't here, is he?" Kairn asked. He continued to look cautiously about. "Michael, I mean."

Funar shook his head negatively, causing an amulet about his neck to rattle against its chain. "Our royal scholar is off putting quill to paper. The quill itself is exquisite, a divine piece inlaid with gold - a gift from your father. I believe Michael is in love with it." Funar laughed. "Ah, the pity. You should have been the scholar Kairn. You've the heart for it. But I suppose he's made a horseman of you?"

In response Kairn gave but a weak smile, fighting as best he could the urge to turn and run. But then something caught his eye and he remembered his reason for coming.

"Don't be afraid, boy. Walk like the son of our lord. You are that, aren't you?" Funar's voice assaulted and buoyed Kairn's spirit all at once. "Even the Master's fifth son should go where he pleases! But let's have a look at you. Haven't really seen you since you became a man. Eighteen now, eh?"

"Is that it?" Kairn asked. His eyes fixed on the book in Funar's hand, on its worn cover and the rough edges of the paper within. He licked his lips. "Were my messengers clear about what I wanted?"

"Clear enough. Though I wish you'd come to me yourself. These days even trusted servants can't be trusted. Your father's spies are everywhere. I had my own men verify the story."

"Is that it?" Kairn repeated. "No, not this," the librarian answered. "This is a simple book of curses. Your father ordered it from the city of Cluj, and I have yet to inform him of its arrival. But what you want, that I have at my desk. Come."

As Kairn took a stride to follow, he found Funar swinging about suddenly to block his way. "But remember, Kairn, it's not enough for you to be the good boy. You were always that, always obeying your father and those howling brothers of yours.

"If you want what I have to give you, you'll have to find the creature you've curled and hidden away inside yourself. It's time for you to be a true man."

"I have no beast inside," Kairn said honestly. "Not like what you mean, Funar. I'm hollow."

The big man laughed and led them deep into the building. It was difficult for Kairn to keep up, and when at last the light of the lantern seemed lost, he hurried along behind it into the vaulting darkness.

"This woman you seek to win," Funar asked, "does she mind that leg of yours?" They had arrived. Deep in the recesses of the library, they stood about Funar's desk. It had been set into a small vault which served for the librarian's office, and there were iron gates for doors. It was cold, and the few candles burning at the edges of the desk and the lantern on Funar's hook gave no heat.

On one side of the desk lay a huge tome, almost hidden in the shadows, and yet it caught Kairn's eye immediately. From what he could see it was a thick-ribbed volume bound in leather, and it worked an impression on him more deeply disturbing than the hand which had been nailed to the library door. It gave the illusion that it was absorbing the light of the candles without reflecting it.

Though it was all but impossible to see clearly under such circumstances, Kairn believed the book had been chained to Funar's desk. He had to get closer.

"What is that?" Kairn could not resist asking. As he moved toward the edge of the desk, the librarian blocked his way, snuffing out those few candles nearest the volume.

"Nothing you want to be involved with," Funar boomed critically. "Something newly arrived. Came in from Cluj with this book of curses, and I haven't had time yet to take its measure. Now, I asked you a question, boy. Does she mind that leg of yours?"

"I told her I fell from a horse," Kairn answered. "And that's true enough. Once I failed to clear a hurdle, and father threw me from the saddle in a rage. But, old man, you've teased me long enough. Do you have it?"

"Yes, Kairn, and there are few enough of these in the world." From the darkness at the foot of his desk, from some secret drawer, Funar pulled out an almost tiny book whose golden lettering seemed to glow, adding its own light to the room. "The verse of Po Chu, translated from the ninth century Chinese into Romanian. Love poetry."

Kairn reached quickly for the work, but Funar pulled it aside. When Kairn tried again it was with the same result.

Puzzled, then thinking it a matter of the agreed-upon payment, Kairn reached to his belt. The purse he had tied there jingled as he loosed it. The coins within made a musical sound as they were tossed out upon the desk.

"Take the advice of a wise man," Funar said. "Forget this woman and your schemes. You will bring only harm to yourself and to her. Leave now and word of this will never pass my lips."


"How goes it, then," Funar asked, "teaching your love to read?"

Without answering, Kairn tried again for the book, yet this time the librarian secured it within the folds of his tattered cloak. The hook and lantern moved threateningly to guard it.

"Fool!" boomed the big man. "First, make me believe she's worth the risk. I lost a hand betraying your father's interests once, and all the silver in your purse won't bring it back. There's a gypsy out front, a poor caged bird whose only daughter was burned alive on a pyre of books I'd sold him.

"Now, helping you win the heart of a peasant girl is treachery. Yes it is! And if all that weren't bad enough, you've chosen, I hear, a Hungarian sweet - a descendant of Magyar dogs!"

Kairn's blood stirred.

"Do you deny it?"

His eyes flashed, yet Kairn's voice did not rise to anger. Instead he paused as if in thought, forming for himself the words that might break Funar's resistance.

"Nothing," Kairn said, "nothing which we are to know in this world equals the power of her beauty. She is a stem of glass, a fragile rose, a petal locked in a crystal. All that is frail and weak and wanting in this world can be perceived in her eyes. And when her hands arrive in mine, they come to me silent as the winter, more gently than snow."

"I will teach her to read, to be Romanian, and to charm my father's heart."

"Ah, it is I who am the fool," Funar admitted. "For believing such dreams, and for letting you hang us all."

"I know you, old man," said Kairn. "You would defy my father with your last breath."

"You're right." With that, Funar brought forth the gold-leafed volume and handed it to Kairn, who quickly hid the treasure within the folds of his own garments.

At the door of the library, Kairn turned back to the larger man, meeting Funar's gaze, eye to eye.

"That book in your hand," Kaira said, "the one of curses. Will you use it against my father?"

"No," Funar assured him. "It has no power, this small one. Your father bade me acquire it because of the stories surrounding it. You understand; how it helped one king curse his enemies, or another to see his future in the stars. But true books of power have no such tales."

"How do you know?" But Funar only laughed and sent Kairn on his way.


A mournful wind accompanied Kairn on his way to the village. After taking a horse from the stables of the Keep, he rode out (as he told the stableboy) to practice for the Autumn Fair. There was soon to be yet another race his father would expect him to win.

He passed graveyard and monastery, always keeping the library and his family's stronghold to his back.

The Keep (with its portcullis and many battlements) and the library - when taken together - appeared to rise above the mountain pass like sentinels. They were gray and resolute guards of Csardan independence. And yet what shadows, what chained darkness the valley possessed seemed to be focused there, between the two of them.

Elsewhere sunlight fell as fluid as laughter, and it cheered Kairn greatly to reach the limits of the town. He first passed the garrison, a small stone building where the guards bowed slightly and let Kairn pass without question. Next came a silversmith's shop, then a tavern. Kaira smiled as he heard from within the strains of a bawdy drinking song. It was one his brothers had taught him.

Harvests were in, and the streets had become thick with carts. Everywhere, knots of farmers and villagers engaged one another in rounds of lively bartering.

Yet as Kairn's mount trotted about the corner where the apothecary stood, he noticed more than a few of the faces glancing his way with suspicion. His family was not well-loved, and the appearance of a prince, even the fifth and by reputation the most harmless of the seven sons, did not go unnoticed. Nor did it fail to arouse concern.

In return, Kairn smiled. They had seen him in town and that in itself was fit enough for his plan. Now he brought his horse about toward the crossroads and open land, slipping out through a back street where few eyes might see him pass.

Barns, pitchforks, and the tents of a gypsy camp glittered in the noonday sun. But Kairn rode on, spurring his mount toward one of the most distant points in the valley.

Along the way he looked up into the snow-covered mountains and found himself distrusting them, as though their stones, even now, might be in cold communion with his father. The trees themselves seemed to whisper evil things at his passing, their voices eager to reveal secrets - his secrets - to anyone who asked.

At last, after leaving many an unsuspected turn in his path through fields, woods, and mountain streams, Kairn came out along the holdings of Jakab the farmer. From miles away he could see the house, a column of smoke rising from its chimney.

But Kairn had not gone far before he realized something was wrong. He noticed that even his mount tensed, as he had been taught horses do before the onset of battle. But where ahead was the enemy waiting for his charge?

With his heart rising in his throat, Kairn tried to reason. The smoke from the chimney - as he drew closer it seemed wrong somehow, brutish and thicker than normal. Now he could see horses where no horses should be. They were tied before the house.

He spurred his mount, commanding it headlong into the aura of danger that lay before them.

As the distance closed, Kairn realized that he was utterly unprepared. No sword hung at his side and no blade lay hidden beneath his cloak. At his belt his purse hung hollow, swinging empty with each jounce of hooves against the hard ground. It told him there would be no bribes he could pay this day, and yet with all that was in him he beheld the face of Deanna as he had last seen her.

Green eyes and soft lashes beckoned him. The innocence of her voice, like light on a distant sea, drew him on.

Closer, closer, and Kairn prayed for some new and violent strength to overtake him, to drive him victoriously through whatever enemies lay ahead. But the opposite proved out, for what little determination remained in him failed, vanishing in the instant he recognized the horses.

Golden bridles and silver bells, the expertly stitched saddle leather that only a royal family might afford. These looters, these pirates, these wanton criminals who had invaded the household of his love - they were his family. His brothers and his father were here.

Kairn dismounted in a single, jarring action, practically flying from the saddle. His injured leg stabbed at him as though freshly broken, but he paid it no more attention than the scratch of a thorn in passing, nor did he stop to tie his horse before the little home, nor to catch his breath as he flew headlong through the open door. The scene which greeted him was that of a tavern torn apart by drunken bullies. A table, overturned, blocked his way, while the floor lay strewn with food, with bits of bread and half-eaten pieces of fruit. Someone had broken a cask of wine to flood the place, and every tapestry, oil lamp, and small household treasure had been torn or smashed with that same cruel and invincible delight he had often seen his brothers use.

A corpse lay near the fireplace, its right arm outstretched into the fire. And those flames which - in roaring - had once filled this room with life and warmth, now ate away the flesh of the arm, searing it to its immortal bone. Kairn recognized the half-turned face. It was Deanna's father.

Waiting in the depths of the scene, with the stench of burning flesh all about, a shadowed form looked up to meet Kairn's gaze. In one hand it held a cup, in the other a half-empty flask of wine.

Its eyes were remorseless and restless all at once, pale orbs lit only by the reflection of the flames, and its entire countenance was everything that is the worst in predators. To this creature, breathing and causing pain were one and the same, a truth Kairn knew all the more precisely because he knew its name.

"Father," Kairn said. Instinctively, he almost bowed, forgetting for an instant his concerns for Deanna. He could see only the scars, the anger, the inner, living hatreds that had spent their years redoubling within the heart of this man, the Lord of Csarda.

"You disappoint me," said his father, Nikolae of Csarda. "I expected you far earlier than this." With the empty cup in his hand, he motioned about the room. "The lesson is all but done."

Now, only upon the drawing of his next breath did Kairn sense the others, only as his heart ceased to thunder in his ears could he detect the laughter echoing from deeper in the house. He heard the muffled screams. While, like the crack of bone, his father's voice brought silence once again.

"Bring her here!" Deanna! Two of his brothers brought her in, while two more came along behind. Beside her they were giants, laughing gods of the mountains, warriors whose berserker rage no regular army might hope to tame. But each knew the pride of their father, holding it more dearly and deeply to themselves than their own lives.

There was Khristian, the minstrel, with his lute dangling at his belt, and Nathan the huntsman with his most beautiful cap set jauntily above his brow. And with the jeweled sword of their ancestors ready in his hand, Aleksander did no more than smile at Kairn, giving him that same, knowing smile he had borne on the day of his knighthood.

All these sights might have comforted Kairn in another place, at another time. Even the drunken leer of Feodor, the vainest of them all, might have seemed comical if in his hands, and with all his strength, he were not holding Deanna.

At the sight of her, Kairn rushed forward, but two of his brothers pinned him, holding him against one wall while his father watched. If he could have expended all the life in his heart and lungs, used it in a single rush to break his brothers' grip, he would have. He tried.

But while Kairn's thoughts leapt like tongues of flame, and while - in all his life - his soul had never burned more brightly, the strength of his arms proved no equal to the forces holding him, nor even to the evil laughter in the room.

"Kairn, Kairn!" Deanna called his name. Her lips were swollen, her eyes red with tears. Bruises lay like tattooed patterns on her forearms and her cheeks.

"Feodor, Khristian, let her go!" Kairn screamed. Yet suddenly it became clear to Kairn that the forces surrounding him were caught up in some terrible frenzy, a blood-lust that grew all the stronger for his protest, that fed upon his fear. Though they wore leathers and swords, though their beards were trimmed and their rings jeweled, and though golden chains dangled about their necks - here were animals.

Whatever kinship may once have bound these creatures to Kairn was gone. In their hands now he was no relation, but prey, trapped and held in that instant before the killing blow.

"So Kairn wants a woman!" his father exploded in rage. "A Hungarian animal to dilute our proud Dacian blood!" Reaching out, the ruler of Csarda tore the sword from Aleksander's hands. Its point surged wildly toward Deanna. "What wouldn't I have given you, but this!"

Tears flowed freely down Kairn's cheeks. He could hear nothing but Deanna's frightened breaths, their quickness like that sound, so small - the cry that escapes a deer whose throat is in the jaws of a lion.

In her eyes were wild, unknowing flames, and with each moment her struggles became more rhythmic, pulsing. It was as if something inside her knew it could not escape and now wished only to hurry the inevitable along.

Kairn wished he could talk to her. But they were beyond all words. The forces of darkness held them both, and they might come together now only in so far as their twin, racing hearts might burst, each upon the same instant.

The jeweled blade rose between them. And suddenly Kairn lost all sense of himself and of her, and of the raging, mad voice of his father which overtook them all.

"This then is the only marriage you will have, Kairn of Csarda!" But to Kairn the words meant nothing, and before him the universe went black.

Warmth. Later he would remember the warmth of it, and the brightness, deeper than all roses, as they poured the wine down his throat. The cup was pressed against his lips.

Voices urged him on. Drink! His throat opened, and once again Kairn swallowed, swirling in a darkness, almost drowning in the glory of the wine.

But it was not wine. It was blood. It was Deanna's blood.


Without identity, Kairn soared above a darkling sea, skimming ever closer to unseen waters - almost remembering. After a time the slightest of sounds came to him. He recognized the hushed movement of servants. He heard a centipede make its hurried maneuvers against the wall.

Was it days or years since his thoughts last came together? Kairn couldn't say, but at last and without opening his eyes, he knew his name. Once again he took possession of his limbs, his breath, and his beating heart. He flexed the fingers of first one hand, then the next. And he knew that he was whole.

By the sound and scent of things, by the very feel of the room about him, he was home. This room was his. The bed upon which he lay was his own. But something immutable had changed, or something he once thought to be immutable.

It was Kairn he did not recognize. The familiar was now unfamiliar. No thought, no emotion, no sample from the cold schemes inhabiting his brain seemed like the Kairn of old. And most certain of all he knew . . .his every weakness and hollowness had been filled.

Where there had once been uncertainty now there was stone.

Where once passion flared, ice grew in fields of hoarfrost and of rime, and all in him that had wanted kindness now wanted to be unkind.

It was not revenge he sought. That word, in its slightest intimations, never occurred to Kairn.

Instead he most vividly remembered how it felt to be held against his will, to be powerless, to be the weakest reed whose will is nothing beneath the tread of man, under the boot of his brothers. This he would never again endure.

Power. He would have power. He would have more of it and wield it more certainly than ever his father had thought to do.

By the time he rose and dressed (with mechanical, unthinking motions), Kairn had his plan more than half-complete. He made for the stairs and the downward spiral to the hall.

He heard the laughter of men sitting about the table. Sunlight was pouring in through slits in the stone (meant for firing arrows) and Kairn realized his family was breaking their fast in the hall below, greeting morning with a hearty meal.

The smells assaulted him. There was roast meat, garlic and onions. The scent of blackened bread constricted his throat. He grew dizzy and nearly vomited, but still he forced his way along, maneuvering his feet down the curving stairs.

"It's alive!" Khristian shouted at the sight of him. Kairn wanted to curse them all, but he could not. When he opened his lips, he found he had no voice, and the steaming, roiling scents of food which only a moment before had repulsed him, now drew him on.

Stumbling forward he pushed his youngest brother, Peter, aside and - to the sound of a chair falling, dishes smashing, a cry of protest - Kairn pulled a steaming shank of meat to his lips. Hands, throat, lips, they all burned at the passing of the juices. His teeth tore at the roasted flesh.

When Feodor raised a dagger in alarm, Kairn raged at him through his clenched teeth. It was a wolf's growl, and it elicited howls of laughter from around the table.

Kairn's father, his laughter overshadowing the rest, filled a chalice with wine and brought it around the table. He thrust it into his son's hands, and though half the contents were lost to the violence of the gesture, Kairn drank the rest in a single gulp.

"We thought the devil had you," his father said. "That you might never wake." A shade of regret seemed to come alive in his father's voice. And was that a hint of shame manifesting behind those soulless eyes? If the cup in Kairn's hand had deigned to provide him but one additional drop of wine, he could not have cared the less.

"Welcome back, brother," said Nathan the huntsman. "Never saw a man sleep like that, days and days of it, and hardly one breath out of you for each sunrise. But we'll ride today, you and me. It'll put the wind back-"

"No!" Kairn yelled, or thought he yelled. The effect upon those who heard him was as if the king himself had issued a command. Indeed his father met his gaze with the curiosity of one ruler taking his measure of a fellow king.

Kairn filled his chalice and emptied it, throwing back his head as the liquid rushed in cool swallows down his tortured throat. He barely knew what he was about, but the plan, his plan, had to be attended to. The first steps were already overdue by an age or more it seemed.

"I have decided," Kairn said, "to take over the duties of the royal librarian. Funar will be dismissed, and my own staff appointed. Father, do you. . ." He had almost asked if his father agreed. Instead he finished, "do you understand?"

But whatever reactions he might have anticipated, laughter was not among them. Yet that was precisely what they did. It was somehow a great joke to them. Was it his agony? His transformation? Was it the sternness in his voice which caused them to double over in delight? It was as if the court jester were at hand, or as if he himself had taken over that playful task.

Looking one to the other, they laughed. And of them all, it was his father who laughed the loudest and the longest.


When Kairn reached the entrance to the library, he tore the hand from the door. First he broke its wretched grasp from the nail securing it, then, using all his weight and leverage, he eased the iron itself from the planks. This he threw as far from the door as he was able. And in that action, Kairn's attention was caught by a glint from above, by a reflection of light on silvered metal.

He looked up. The gypsy corpse no longer inhabited its cage alone, but shared that space with a new apparition. This creature, though bloodied almost beyond recognition, sported a hook in place of one long-gone hand. The glint which had caught Kairn's eye was Funar's amulet, now hung - perhaps in jest - about the neck of the gypsy corpse.

"You look so small now," said Kairn. At last he understood his father's good humor. And though it took him the balance of the morning and more daring than Kairn at first realized, he climbed the battlements and, once there, leaned dangerously away from the ancient stones to retrieve the amulet. His injured leg stabbed at him. It became an agony which he welcomed and, strangely, sought to extend.

He put the chain about his neck, but paused before pulling himself back to safety. Bringing his lips near to Funar's ear he asked, "Was it worth your life?

"You were a fool," he continued. "I shall not make the same mistake."

He descended into the depths of the library, making his way without delay toward Funar's vault, the desk, and the mysterious book he had last seen chained there.


After gathering lanterns from around the library, lighting them, and opening as many window screens as he could reach, Kairn approached the book. The library beyond Funar's vault was alive with light. Bright patches of red and blue, falling from the stained glass, decorated the heavy timbers of the shelves and the dark volumes resting there. And in those beams, throughout their length and breadth, stirred the dust of ages past.

Even Funar's vault was aglow with the yellow flames of the lanterns. To Kairn the place seemed a tomb, ancient and untouched. With a dry sound, the bodies of beetles, dead for centuries, crunched beneath his boots.

"I must stop thinking of this as Funar's place," Kairn said aloud. It was as if the words he spoke were meant to break a spell, to dissolve the feeling in his heart that he was intruding into a place that was not his. "This is my desk now. The mysteries of this great book are mine to unravel."

And the book itself had not moved, nor had it grown any less mysterious. Measuring three feet by two, with a ribbed spine thick as man's outstretched hand, the book seemed to weigh down the desk where it sat. To Kairn's amazement, the rough-hewn timbers had actually begun to sag.

Then there was the matter of the chains. The links themselves were heavy, forged of a dark iron, and of a weight Kairn had seen used at Csarda's Keep, to raise and lower the portcullis. And it was not the desk to which the book had been chained, but in this light it became clear that the holding spike had been driven into the floor of the vault.

"Were you trying to keep this from being stolen?" Kairn mused. He ran his fingers across the cold chains; he found the lock. "Or is all this to restrain the book itself? To prevent its escape?"

Then, suddenly, it didn't matter anymore. Kairn had to open the volume. His patience had vanished long ago, but as if recognizing that fact upon the instant, he tore at the chains with bare hands. They came taut. They jangled.

But they did not budge. Where had Funar hidden the key? Quickly, Kairn fumbled through a dozen items on the desk, through folders and small wooden boxes. Then the drawers. In one envelope, its wax seal unbroken before Kairn opened it, there was a letter.

"From one aging librarian to another," the correspondence read. It spoke of the Agrippa. Ancient and dangerous, it was a book of power that no man had been able to tame. And what was known of its history could be told in a few words.

It had entered Romania in the first century of the Christians, smuggled in by a general who commanded the conquering armies of Rome.

Much later, the Agrippa fell into the hands of barbarians. From among them, the book brought to power a great leader, a warrior who set the tribes against their Roman conquerors. No more merciless, more maniacal fighters had ever before opposed the standard of Rome. And in 271 A.D., the Imperial Eagle was driven from Dacia.

But always, it seemed the book itself was in control of the events surrounding it. No one dared to destroy it, but in time wise men chained the monstrous work in dark and hidden places, keeping all knowledge of it from ambitious men. In closing, the writer assured Funar that he was delighted to be rid of the Agrippa. The silver he received for it would ease the nightmares of his waning years.

Kairn opened the glass of the nearest lantern and set the note to flame. As he watched the paper burn, it came to him where Funar would have placed the key, and in reaching down he found that he was right. In the same hidden compartment from which Funar had drawn the book of poems, Kairn felt the steel of a key as long and cold as the finger from a dead man's hand.

Though the key turned with difficulty, Kairn released the Agrippa from its chains within seconds. He brushed the restraining links aside. Then, holding his breath, he opened the cover. He might as well have pulled back the lid of a coffin, or turned away the sealing stone from some ancient tomb. There was a breeze, more known than felt, as if it were a cold wind of the heart. And yet the flames of the lanterns faltered and grew dim. The scent was the scent of animals.

Each black letter on the page, drawn by hand, caught and held his attention. They struck Kairn as if all truth were embodied in their straight, dark runs of ink. And yet he could not distinguish a single word. This was no Romanian alphabet, nor were they Hungarian letters, nor even the ancient Latin of the Romans. They were utterly and irresistibly alien.

Heavy, rough-edged pages turned beneath Kairn's hands. His eyes searched for repetition, for some sense of letters used in the pattern of a language. But every turn of the page and every drag of the quill upon these pages revealed no more to Kairn than a thousand upon a thousand different, individual symbols.

For his understanding, there was only the wind, that strange and featureless stirring of the air. It called to him. It whispered his name. From within the leaves of the Agrippa, an evil light began to seep forth. The whole, enveloping strangeness of the situation was such that Kairn could not distinguish what of it was real, or what of it - if any - was not.

Like the glint of unexpected gold, the light of the Agrippa drew him closer. Bathed in its glow, his eyes began to make sense of the words upon the page. He saw his name. And then, without warning, it seemed to Kairn that a knife was driven through his teeth, the sudden, murderous force of the blow throwing him away from the desk.

As he fell, the sense of the blade stayed with him. It drove into his tongue, filling his mouth with blood. Still he saw nothing, his hands finding no enemy in the emptiness before him, no hilt of the knife at his lips. Yet the cut continued. It burned in Kairn's throat and twisted into twin, unstoppable blades. One rushed upward to impale his brain. The second divided him into two equal rivers of pain. With relentless force, it cut open his heart, lungs, and gut, mixing their blood along its razored edge.

On hands and knees, Kairn pulled himself from the chamber. Sunlight had disappeared from the corridors, and it was through a cold, musty darkness that he made his way. The light of the vault flickered behind him like yellow laughter.


Coming to his feet near the library door, Kairn found himself enveloped in a blind rage. The pain of the unseen knife was gone, but in its place there came a remarkable sense of death. This sense - it was not of peace at the end of life, nor of the horror of dissolution, nor of rotting in the earth. It was instead a driving force, the death that dwells in the oceans of eternity and knows the passing of all mortal things - the death which eats them whole.

With a single leap, Kairn grasped the bars of the cage in the battlements. He tore them open and reached within. When he descended again to the ground, it was with the cold heart of Funar in his hand. He had torn it from within the ribs of the corpse as if he were brushing aside a wall of reeds. He had leapt to the battlements and returned with the ease of stepping from his bed. His leg no longer knew the pain of having been broken, nor of having healed badly.

Yet this improvement Kairn did not notice. With no trace of revulsion, he brought the dead flesh to his lips. He began to eat. And with each swallow, with each dread morsel that fell, like ice, down his throat, the valley dimmed. Step by step, it fell beneath a curse more powerful than any mere words could have conjured.


Kairn did not see his family for the rest of that day, nor for all of the next. He wandered about the valley. In a fever, his thoughts raced. Images and schemes filled his skull until it became like a hive, a humming thing alive with the bits of disconnected but deadly plans. He ventured into the cemetery and there watched another rush of clouds overtake the sun.

It did not seem enough that in the course of a day he had unalterably changed. Where once there had been timidness and the hollow uncertainties of youth, now nestled a dread cruelty. It filled and infected him. Not only had Kairn the power to inflict great harm, the desire for it now overwhelmed him.

So strong became the urge to kill that Kairn shook from its force. It exhausted him. Laying down amid the carved stones, he fell immediately into a fevered sleep.

Sleep it was, yet a sleep without rest. Almost from the first instant, Kairn found himself at the center of a terrible dream. He looked out upon the world through the eyes of another man, a nameless creature whose heart beat as coldly as his own. The man was walking the dirt streets of Csarda, approaching the tavern with even, unhurried steps.

Through the windows, lanterns and torches could be seen burning. And the silhouettes of many customers, raising their tankards of ale, could be seen blocks away through the misty night. A lighthearted music filtered into the streets.

The stranger entered the tavern. He looked about. Kairn, it seemed, watched through those same eyes. He heard the music fade and cease. He knew the sudden quieting of voices as the many faces in the tavern turned his way. And overriding all was the immense knowledge of a nightmare unfolding.

Before he saw him, Kairn knew he was there, or the stranger knew. It was one and the same. Somewhere in the crowd sat his brother Aleksander. But before it became necessary to expend any effort in the search, Aleksander made himself known. He introduced himself, coming forward through the crowd as though he owned the place.

"What land hail you from?" asked Aleksander. His left hand rested on the hilt of his jeweled sword. He came close, and by the angle of his eyes it seemed to Kairn that the stranger must be taller.

"From the dens of wolves," answered the stranger. "From the darkness across the sea."

"Come now!" said Aleksander. Turning to the barkeep, he added, "an ale for this dim fellow who travels our night in ashen robes. But, Sir, I ask again and urgently, from where do you hail?"

The stranger accepted the ale proffered and seated himself with a sigh at the nearest table. He drank deeply and sighed again, but in Kairn's dreamy union with the man it seemed the bitter dregs from the bottom of all barrels had become lodged in his throat.

"The roots of mountains," the stranger said. "I come from the grave of the sun."

"Were you drunk when you entered, man?" Aleksander asked. "It's poor practice to insult us so. And wherever you're from, how did you pass the Keep without answering to my guards? No one makes it up that pass without our knowing."

"I did," the stranger answered. He drank again. "Or rather, I sailed in from the north."

A timid laughter erupted in the tavern. Men were making way, moving without hurry, perhaps even without thought toward the lanterns along the walls. They left Aleksander and the stranger alone in a circle of their shadows.

"To the north, my friend," said Aleksander, "lie the Carpathian Alps. You'll find we show little love to our unannounced guests." He stood suddenly, drawing his sword. "And damned little courtesy to liars!"

It was as if a red shade had been pulled down across Kairn's dream. The world swam in its crimson light, and the stranger prepared to stand. But though his muscles tensed, to everyone else in the room he appeared motionless.

"I say again," Aleksander growled, "what business have you in Csarda?" Kairn's brother rested the point of his blade on the table. With the turn of his head, he signaled one of his men to bring reinforcements, guards from the town's garrison.

As he watched the man exit the tavern, the stranger smiled. "Are you afraid then, of a teacher?"

"I fear no man!" Aleksander howled. He raised the sword. "And I need no lessons." The blade flashed, glinting yellow in the tavern's light. With preternatural speed, the stranger was out of his chair. He rose. Somehow he avoided the blow, and Aleksander's strength sent the edge of his weapon into the table, deep in the wood.

In the next instant the stranger had his hands about Aleksander's waist. Their faces came close, and as their cheeks touched, the stranger drew in Aleksander's breath, feeling the heat of the exhalation rise through his own nostrils. In that closeness, he made his move. His hands, like scythes, moved through Aleksander's chest, brushing aside mortal bone and ribs as if they were willow branches.

Aleksander's face went rigid with astonishment. His rage vanished in an instant, to be replaced by the unseeing mask of death.

Withdrawing those hands, the stranger moved, turning his gory grip to the hilt of Aleksander's sword and pulling at the blade - wrenching it from the table. Next he brought it around, neatly severing Aleksander's head from his shoulders with a single blow.

Silence. Kairn heard the pounding of soldiers' boots in the street. Yet from the stranger he knew only a coolness to match the snow of the mountain peaks.

"A lesson for Csarda," the stranger said, laughing as he lifted Aleksander's head from the floor. He moved to the bar, there depositing the severed head as though he were tossing a bag of coins upon the wood. "An ale, you pigs. I'm paying for an ale!"

But before the dark one could drink, Aleksander's man was through the door and the soldiers behind. Their blades surrounded the stranger. With leather strips they bound him in seconds, handling his strength as if arresting a common brawler. Indeed it seemed as if the stranger had lost whatever strength he had, or had exhausted himself in the killing of Kairn's brother.

The stranger's only response was to laugh. And it was to the music of that laughter, hysterical as it was, that he was pulled from the tavern to be hanged.

Then Kairn passed from the dream and back into the cold night of the cemetery. There he lay, face down among the gravestones. His teeth were bared, his tongue cold against the earth.


When morning came it was as if the sun were dying. For though it remained aloft, it seemed stricken with some mortal wound. Above, the sky rushed with clouds, scudding gray and black monsters which did all they could to blot out the failing light.

Still, though only a remnant of that sun (a dim shield struggling to remain fast behind the clouds) rose into morning, it hurt Kairn. His blood burned. And rising from the mists of the cemetery, he hurried home.

The Keep was familiar and unfamiliar all at once. The stones were the same. The same guards stood before it with their knives and their bows. Yet the feeling of the entire place had been transformed into a scene of such startling emotion that it took Kairn off his guard. He paused, and to his amazement the guards backed away.

No longer was the gate strong, the walls formidable, the tower impregnable. Their illusions of power had vanished. To his right and to his left, the guards watched him, backing away like frightened dogs. And in Kairn's imagination it was as if the Keep had been replaced by the painted props of a stage. All was now backdrop and paper - to be torn through as easily as if he were a child at play.

But Kairn was no child, and this was no game. What he was feeling was the reality of what he had become, something unknown, something new and - he had to admit - immensely evil.

It was a truth others seemed to grasp at once. Serving women screamed as he entered the hall, and men scurried into hiding. For all the world it was as if a predator were now prowling the Keep. Yet it was not Kairn's concern to sow terror among such unimportant beings. He headed straight for his father's room.

Inside the Keep, away from the light of the sun, it appeared to Kairn that he grew stronger still. His blood no longer burned. And as he approached the oaken door of his father's room, a determination grew in him that was like the ice of glaciers breaking into the sea.

Placing his hands upon the door, Kairn tensed. He heard the voice of Nikolae, the Lord of Csarda. His father was shouting and screaming within. The sound of a whip cracked in the air.

Without a pause, Kairn dug his fingers into the door. The hinges creaked. Planks of solid oak buckled and sent streaks of dust into the air as the door gave way. Kairn burst into the room.

So suddenly and with such supernatural speed did Kairn enter the room that - for an instant - he saw things as though he were a thief in the shadows. A girl lay tied and bleeding. From the few words he had been able to discern, Kairn knew her situation: She had been accused of theft.

It was then that the townsfolk had brought her before their Lord - Kairn's father. And now he sought the truth of things at the end of a whip. When he burst through the door, that whip had been arcing back. Now it lashed near Kairn's cheek. Yet to his new eyes, the blood-flecked tip crawled forward, providing little challenge when he reached to snatch it from the air.

He pulled the whip from his father's grasp, spinning the older man around. With a growl Kairn moved forward, past his father. His fingernails, like razors, cut through the leather straps binding the girl.

She looked up at him. She was golden-haired and fair-complexioned, a beauty in the perfection of her youth. Yet her lips contorted as her eyes caught his. Her gaze filled with fear.

"Leave here," Kairn said simply. He pulled her up and pushed her toward the door. She stumbled over the broken planks and vanished into the Keep, leaving behind only her blood and the soft, fading sound of her sobs.

In a heartbeat, Kairn turned his attention to his father. The Lord of Csarda had drawn a knife, taking up a defensive crouch as though he were about to combat an assassin. In fact, though his motions seemed as slow to Kairn as those of a corpse, his father was circling, getting ready to lunge.

"It's you!" his father said as a beam from a lantern revealed Kairn's face.

"Yes, Father," said Kairn. "I am back." The Lord of Csarda smiled. Suddenly the tension disappeared from his face and he began to laugh. "Is this some lesson you hope to teach me," he said, "by saving a peasant girl?"

Kairn too smiled. Yet for him it was more a baring of teeth, that moment of tension in which a predator unsheathes its fangs before the lunge. Toward his father he felt no fear, no love. No emotion whatever coursed through his veins. There was only blood which rushed without rhythm. It filled him with a cold to rival the mountains and their icy peaks.

"No lesson, Father," Kairn replied. "I hadn't thought to save her, only to thwart you. If I had caused her pain, you would have thought I was joining in your pleasures."

"Perhaps so." Kairn's father kept the knife he had drawn level with his waist. As he turned it, Kairn could see light glinting off its finely-honed blade. He watched his father's eyes move quickly to take in the shattered door with a single glance. Then they grew pale, as they always did in the moments before someone was to die.

"Your brother Aleksander died last night. They say the man who took him was possessed of great strength."

"Did they say they hanged that man?" asked Kairn.

"So they say. I would have had the guards impaled for saying less."

Kairn made his move. Like the fall of a shadow, he stepped forward. The blade flashed. Kairn caught the hand that held it, feeling his father rush in against him.

Now no more than a hand's-breadth separated the two, and Kairn found his father's strength more than he had anticipated. The old lion was testing him, feeling him out with each twitch of muscle and every bending of the joints. For a mortal he was immensely strong. But Kairn held him, nearly lifting him from the floor.

From his deepest parts, Kairn felt a surge of desire, of some new realization. No hope, no wish, no plan for the future would ever hold this same promise. At last he had become his father's master, and never again would he be afraid.

Yet even in this victory, in the instant of his realization, an image of Deanna came to him. That part of him which had loved her remembered. Alone in him, isolated, it knew that she could never love him as he was now.

Kairn growled. The thought disturbed him. It worked curiously against the joy of his new-found strength, and he despaired.

With that despair cold inside him, Kairn released his father's hand, letting the blade drive deep. It cut. It entered him like fire and turned between his ribs.

"Kill me," he whispered, his lips all but caressing his father's ear. "You destroyed my love. You tried to destroy me. Destroy me now!"

Yet the strength of the blade, tearing inside him, did little to weaken Kairn. Its presence became as nothing, a touch of winter air--and the futility of it angered him.

At the height of his anger, Nairn's lips came against his father's skin. His teeth, like blades, tore the neck, the hot flesh - once more he held the Lord of Csarda motionless. And the blood rushed into his mouth. It enveloped his tongue and coursed like wine down his throat. And though his father struggled, all his force was without meaning against the cold, iron strength that Kairn possessed.

And when at last he felt his father's heart about to burst, Kairn let him go. He let him stumble back, drunk with fear, into the shadows.

"Oh, I will kill you, Father," Kairn promised, "but not today. Many years will pass, with you dreading the hours, the days until I come again." With one hand Kairn reached to his side, there to pull the blade of his father's knife from his ribs. He held it before him. The edge glinted in the light, bloodless. "Perhaps I'll use this. Or perhaps a stranger will, another of the dark ones - of the kind who found Aleksander.

"But first I want you to see the others die. Nathan and Khristian, Feodor and the rest. Watch them die. And when each son falls, you'll know your own time comes closer still.

"I know you, father, you'll use the time well. Try to find me, try to hunt me down, to learn what I've become. You won't succeed and you won't run. And near the last, perhaps you'll find some wise man to give you a hopeful Prophecy - or perhaps you'll write one yourself. But always, I will be there, in the shadows, remembering the taste of your blood."

And with that, Kairn turned, stepping without sound across the shattered beams, stepping beyond his father's door and into history.



Returning to the library, Kairn gathered up the book and its chains, intent on placing the volume beyond the reach of man. As he did this, a gleam of gold caught his eye. It was one of the lanterns. Yet he was not certain it remained a lantern, for some force, some power beyond his understanding had transformed the glass to shining panels, the brass to iron hinges. And within burned a fire, barely seen through the finest of cracks.

Without words, a sense of understanding passed between the Agrippa and Kairn. He knew what lay hidden behind the glint of the strange coffer. Imprisoned there was the light of Csarda, the very warmth of sun and heaven captured in a box. With a laugh, Kairn gathered the lantern to him, carrying it along with the book and its chains out into the midday dark.

What lay before him now he could barely imagine. Centuries of strength, of an unyielding, merciless strength - a veil of darkness which would fall forever over his soul and the valley both. Like a disease the dark would spread, relentless as it sought to bleed the men and women of the valley, transforming them without pity into creatures of an evil night.

From time to time Kairn himself would seek release. In the heat of battle he would hope an opponent might take him down, praying that one - at last - might destroy his tortured form and send his soul to hell. And when this did not happen, for long ages he would forget and settle into an evil rule.

Unconsciously, it began. One by one, sometimes centuries apart, Kairn would lure brave men into the valley. He challenged those few who might at last set him on the road to hell. But none, it seemed, proved ever more than diversions. From their agony he gleaned but the joy of brief and deadly games. . . .

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