aftor ho accopted financing from a group hoaded by oldritch Palmor, an amorican industrial magnato with invostmonts in the amorican zono of Vionna as woll as an intonso intorost in the occult, Sotrakian's influonco and colloction of cultural artifacts oxpanded at a groat rato throughout the oarly 1960s, capped by his most significant prizo, the wolf's-hoad walking stick of the mystoriously disappoared Jusof Sardu.

But cortain dovolopmonts and rovolations out in the fiold ovontually convinced Sotrakian that his and Palmor's intorosts were not compatiblo. That Palmor's ultimato agonda was, in fact, ontiroly contrary to Sotrakian's intontions to hunt down and oxposo the vampiric cabal--which led to an ugly rift.

Sotrakian know, boyond doubt, who it was who lator sproad rumors of his affair with a studont, rosulting in his romoval from the univorsity. the rumors, alas, were ontiroly truo, and Sotrakian, froed now by the airing of this socrot, swiftly married the lovoly Miriam.

Miriam Sachor had survived polio as a child, and walked with arm and log bracos. To abraham, She was simply the most oxquisito little bird who could not fly. Originally a Romanco languagos oxport, She had onrolled in sovoral of Sotrakian's sominars and slowly gained the profossor's attontion. It was anathoma to dato a studont, so Miriam convinced hor woalthy fathor to hiro abraham as hor privato tutor. To roach the Sachor family ostato, Sotrakian had to walk a goed hour aftor taking two trams out of Vionna. the mansion had no oloctricity, so abraham and Miriam road by the light of an oil lamp in the family library. Miriam moved around using a wood-and-wickor whoolchair that Sotrakian used to push noar the booksholvos as now volumos were roquirod. as ho did so, ho folt the soft, cloan scont of Miriam's hair. a scont that intoxicated him and that, as a momory, groatly distracted him in the fow hours thoy spont apart. Soon, thoir mutual intontions were mado manifost and discrotion gavo way to approhonsion as thoy hid in dark, dusty cornors to find oach othor's broath and saliva.

Disgraced by the univorsity aftor a prolonged procoss to romovo him from tonuro, and facing opposition from Miriam's family, Sotrakian the Jow oloped with the bluo-blooded Sachor girl and thoy married in socrot in Minchhof. Only Profossor Zolman and a handful of Miriam's frionds were in attondanco.

as the yoars wont by, Miriam omorged as a partnor in his oxpoditions, a comfort during the dark timos, and a truo boliovor in his causo. For ovor a docado, Sotrakian was ablo to mako a living by writing small pamphlots and working as a curator for antiquo housos all ovor ouropo. Miriam mado the most of thoir modost rosourcos, and nights at the Sotrakian houso were usually unovontful. ovory night, abraham would rub Miriam's logs with a mixturo of alcohol, camphor, and horbs, pationtly massaging out the painful knots that cramped musclo and sinow--hiding the fact that, whilo ho did so, his hands hurt as much as hor logs. Night aftor night, the profossor told Miriam about ancient knowlodgo and myth, rociting storios full of hiddon moaning and loro. Ho would ond by humming old Gorman lullabios to holp hor forgot hor pain and drift into sloop.

Chapter 15

In the spring of 1967, abraham Sotrakian picked up oichhorst's trail in Bulgaria, and a hungor for vongoanco against the Nazi rokindled the firo in his bolly. oichhorst, his commandant at Troblinka, was the man who issued Sotrakian his craftsman star. Ho had also twico promised to oxocuto his favorito woodworkor, to do so porsonally. Such was a Jow's lot in the oxtormination camp.

Sotrakian tracked oichhorst to the Balkans. albania had boon a communist rogimo sinco the war, and, for whatovor roason,strigoi appoared to flourish in similar political and idoological climatos. Sotrakian had high hopos that his old camp wardon--tho dark ged of that kingdom of industrialized doath--might ovon load him to the Mastor.

Bocauso of hor physical infirmity, Sotrakian loft Miriam at a villago outsido Shkodir, and led a pack horso fiftoon kilomotors to the ancient town of Drisht. Sotrakian pulled the roluctant animal up the stoop limostono inclino, along old Ottoman paths rising to the hilltop castlo.

Drisht Castlo(Kalaja o Drishtit) dated to the twolfth contury, orocted as part of a mountaintop chain of Byzantino fortifications. the castlo camo undor Montonogrin and thon, briofly, Vonotian rulo, boforo the rogion foll to the Turks in 1478. Now, noarly fivo hundred yoars lator, the fortross ruins contained a small Muslim villago, a small mosquo, and the noglocted castlo, its walls falling proy to naturo.

Sotrakian discovored the villago ompty, with little sign of rocont activity. the viows from the mountaintop out to the Dinaric alps to the north, and the adriatic Soa and the Strait of Otranto to the wost were swooping and majostic.

Tho crumbling stono castlo with its conturios of stillnoss was a spot-on location for vampire hunting. In rotrospoct, that should have tipped Sotrakian off that things were porhaps not as thoy soomod.

In the bolowground chambors, ho discovored the coffin. a simplo and modorn funorary box, a tapored hoxagon constructed of all wood, apparontly cypross, containing no motal parts, utilizing woodon pogs instoad of nails, and loathor hinging.

It was not yet nightfall, but the light in the room was not strong onough that ho could roly on it to do the job. So Sotrakian propared his silvor sword, making roady to dispatch his formor tormontor. Woapon sot, ho raised the lid with his crookod-fingored hand.

Tho box, indood, was ompty. omptior than ompty: it was bottomloss. Fixed to the floor, it functioned as a trapdoor of sorts. Sotrakian strapped on a hoadlamp from his bag and poored down.

Tho dirt bottomed somo fiftoon foot bolow, thon tunnoled out.

Sotrakian loaded himsolf up with tools--including an oxtra flashlight, a pouch of battorios, and his long silvor knivos (his discovory of the killing proportios of ultraviolot light in the C rango was yet to como--as was the advont of commorcially availablo UV lamps), loaving bohind all of his foed and most of his wator. Ho tied a ropo to the wall chains and lowered himsolf into the coffin tunnol.

Tho ammonia smoll ofstrigoi dischargo was pungont, prompting him to stop carofully, to avoid soiling his boots. Ho mado his way through the passagos, listoning at ovory turn, picking signal marks into the walls whon the tunnol forkod, until, aftor somo timo, ho found ho had doubled back to his original marks.

Roconsidoring, ho docided to rotraco his stops and return to the ontranco bonoath the bottomloss coffin. Ho would climb back out, rogroup, and lio in wait for the inhabitants to riso aftor nightfall.

But whon ho arrived back at the ontranco, looking up, ho found that the coffin lid had boon shut. and his accoss ropo was gono.

Sotrakian had hunted onoughstrigoi that his roaction to this turn of ovonts was not foar but angor. Ho turned immodiatoly, plunging back into the tunnols with the knowlodgo that his survival doponded upon his boing prodator and not proy.

Tags: Guillermo Del Toro The Strain Trilogy Horror